Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O’Neill arrives at the Meadowbank sports arena count centre on May 6 (Picture: Getty)
Sinn Fein is on course for a historic victory in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, after receiving the most first-preference votes.
With counting for the 90 Stormont seats continuing on Friday evening, the republican party had won 16 seats, well ahead of the Alliance on four and the DUP and UUP on three.
Sinn Fein received 250,388 first preferences, compared with the 184,002 returned for the DUP and 116,681 for the Alliance Party.
The party’s vice president Michelle O’Neill was elected on the first count in Mid Ulster, with Alliance leader Naomi Long topping the poll in East Belfast.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was elected on the first count in Lagan Valley.
He said he was delighted with his party’s performance in Lagan Valley, adding that it was too early to comment on the overall picture to say what the final outcome might be.
‘I think it is going to be very tight at the end as to who will emerge as the largest party,’ he said.
‘One of the key messages for me is that unionism simply can’t afford the divisions that exist.’
Michelle O’Neill was surrounded by party colleagues and supporters as the result was announced (Picture: AP)
Ms O’Neill was surrounded by party colleagues and supporters as the result was announced in the Magherafelt count centre.
She received 10,845 first preference votes and the result was greeted by large cheers in the count centre.
Speaking to reporters shortly before her election was announced, Ms O’Neill said she was ‘very grateful’ to be with the people of Mid-Ulster.
Asked about the possibility of her taking the first minister role, she said: ‘It is very early to say, let’s get all the votes counted. I feel very positive.’
She said that Sinn Fein wanted to ‘together work in partnership with others’, adding: ‘That is the only way we will achieve much, much more for people here, whether in terms of the cost-of-living crisis or trying to fix our health service.’
Ms O’Neill received 10,845 first preference votes (Picture: PA)
Ms Long, speaking in Belfast, dedicated her victory to her father-in-law.
‘It’s been a good day so far for Alliance and obviously it’s been a good day for me personally in East Belfast, and also for Peter McReynolds, and we expect that we will hold the two seats there.
‘It’s been quite an emotional election campaign for me. I lost my father-in-law in the last few weeks, and we buried him yesterday.
‘I just want to dedicate this win to him, because without family I could not do what I do, and without their support I would not be where I am.
‘I am just absolutely thrilled that I’ve polled so well and I really look forward to later on today and seeing all my colleagues bringing it home.’
The first MLA elected to the Stormont Assembly declared an Alliance Party surge.
Kellie Armstrong was elected for the Strangford constituency on the first stage of the count with 7,015 votes.
Counting is set to continue into Saturday.
Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, who was Northern Ireland’s health minister during the Covid-19 pandemic, was elected after he topped the poll in his North Antrim constituency.
In North Down, independent candidate Alex Easton, who quit the DUP last year, topped the poll.
Some 239 candidates stood across 18 constituencies.
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