Sinn Fein on course for historic victory in National Assembly elections
Sinn Fein are on course for a historic victory in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, having received the most first-preference votes.
With Stormont’s tally of 90 seats continuing, the Republican Party had won 16 seats, well ahead of the Alliance in seven, the DUP in six, the Ulster Unionists in three and the SDLP in one.
Sinn Fein looks set to emerge with the most seats after receiving 250,388 first preferences, compared to 184,002 for the DUP and 116,681 for the Alliance Party.
This means he received 29% of first preference votes, compared to 21.3% for the DUP, 13.5% for Alliance, 11.2% for Ulster Unionists and 9.1% for SDLP.
Naomi Long’s Alliance party appears to be the other big winner in the election, with renewed support for the cross-community party likely to make it the third largest in Stormont, ahead of the UUP and SDLP, who all have both had disappointing results. .
However, the counting process was slow, with just over a third of the 90 seats taken shortly before 10 p.m. Friday.
Sinn Fein deputy chair Michelle O’Neill was elected at the first count in central Ulster, with Alliance leader Naomi Long leading the poll in east Belfast.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was elected at the first count in the Lagan Valley.
He said he was delighted with his party’s performance in the Lagan Valley, adding that it was too early to comment on the bigger picture to say what the end result might be.
“I think it will be very close at the end as to who emerges as the biggest party,” he said.
“One of the key messages for me is that trade unionism simply cannot afford the divisions that exist.”
Ms O’Neill was surrounded by colleagues and party supporters when the result was announced at the counting center in Magherafelt.
She received 10,845 first preference votes and the result was greeted with loud cheers in the counting center.
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 on the role of prime minister, she said: ‘It’s very early to say, let’s get all the votes counted.
“I feel very positive.”
She said Sinn Fein wanted to “work together in partnership with others”.
“It’s the only way to accomplish much, much more for the people here, whether it’s in terms of the cost of living crisis or trying to fix our health service.”
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, as well as for Peter McReynolds, and we hope to hold both seats there.
“It was quite an emotional campaign for me.
“I lost my stepfather in recent weeks and we buried him yesterday.
“I just want to dedicate this victory to him, because without my family, I couldn’t do what I do, and without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to have surveyed so well and can’t wait to be later today and see all of my colleagues bring it home.”
The first member elected to the Assembly for Stormont declared a push from the Alliance Party.
Kellie Armstrong was elected in the constituency of Strangford in the first stage of the count with 7,015 votes.
Praised by Alliance leader Naomi Long, Ms Armstrong said it was the start of a surge for the party in the Assembly elections.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Ms. Armstrong said. “I’ve held back from using the word surge until now, but I think I feel it now.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be at the top of the poll.
“I’m not going to say a tidal wave right now because we still have a lot of time left, but it’s amazing and it shows in today’s vote.”
The count is expected to continue through Saturday.
Speaking to the PA news agency shortly before being elected in Newry and Armagh, outgoing Finance Minister Conor Murphy dismissed the SDLP’s suggestion that voters had thrown their support behind Sinn Fein.
“I heard this scenario back in the 1990s about vote lending,” he said.
“The reality is that people go out and make a choice on the ballot.
“Sinn Fein have presented a very positive campaign about what we have done in the Executive and Assembly and what we want to do.”
Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, who was Northern Ireland’s health minister during the Covid-19 pandemic, was elected after leading the poll in his North Antrim constituency.
In North Down, independent candidate Alex Easton, who left the DUP last year, came out on top.
Some 239 candidates ran in 18 constituencies.
Striking council and education workers staged protests outside a number of counting centers as part of their two-week strike over a rejected wage offer.
Outside the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast City Council worker and Unite shop steward John Moore said he wanted politicians to take note that ‘this won’t stop until people come to table and won’t talk to us”.
“We were offered a 1.75% pay raise after nearly 12 years of pay cuts and wage freezes, and that 1.75% is just another pay cut people have to pay their family bills, paying for food and energy, and they just can’t do it,” he said.
The DUP and Sinn Fein are vying for the top spot in Stormont, which comes with the right to nominate the next Prime Minister.
A unionist party has consistently won the most seats in the Assembly, and previously in the Stormont Parliament, since state formation in 1921.
While the office of Prime and Deputy Prime Minister is an equal position with joint power, the conferment of titles is considered symbolically important.
The Northern Ireland protocol has cast a shadow over the election campaign, following Prime Minister Paul Givan’s resignation in February in a bid to force the UK government to act on post-Brexit trade deals.
This action left the executive unable to fully function.
As long as ministers remained in office, they were limited in the actions they could take.
Unionists oppose additional checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Britain as the Irish Sea border.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood appeared to downplay his party’s expectations upon his arrival in Magherafelt.
He said voters may have “loaned” their vote to Sinn Fein.
“It’s going to be a long day and maybe a long night too,” he told the PA news agency.
“I think there was a big vote for Sinn Fein on the nationalist side.
“People have decided to send a very clear message that nationalists should not be excluded from the post of prime minister.
“I understand that motivation and I think a lot of people lent their vote to Sinn Fein.”
But Mr Eastwood said the votes were still being counted.
“It’s going to be difficult for us because so many people have wanted to send a message to the DUP that nationalists shouldn’t be excluded from the top position,” he said.
Asked about the Northern Ireland election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ‘the most important thing is that we continue to support the balance of the Good Friday Agreement across all communities in Northern Ireland’.
Speaking during a visit to a school in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, he was asked by reporters whether a majority of people in Northern Ireland will vote for parties that support the deals current trade agreements with the EU, and whether it will work with those parties to make the Northern Ireland protocol work.
Mr Johnson said: “The most important thing is that we continue to support the balance of the Good Friday Agreement across all communities in Northern Ireland.
“That’s what we’re going to do.
“And whatever arrangements we have, they have to have cross-community support, that’s what the Good Friday Agreement is about, that’s what the government is going to do.
“But for the rest we will have to wait and see what the results will be in Northern Ireland.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson earlier warned that his party would not return to the executive without the government acting on protocol.
He told the BBC: “I’ll tell you one thing, if there’s no legislation in the Queen’s Speech and no plan to deal with protocol, we’ve made it clear that the assembly cannot work if the protocol poison is still there.
But Sinn Fein MP John Finucane said people were more concerned about the bread and butter issues.
He said: “I believe the DUP during the campaign laid out a five point plan for how they were going to grow our economy, fix our health service and help working families.
“I don’t see how it’s possible without an executive, in fact it’s not possible without an executive.”
Five Assembly seats are up for grabs in each of the 18 constituencies.
Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote (STV) proportional representation electoral system.
The DUP won 28 seats in the last Assembly elections in 2017, just ahead of Sinn Fein which elected 27 MPs.
This was followed by the SDLP with 12 seats, the Ulster Unionist Party with 10 seats, the Alliance with eight seats, the Green Party with two seats, while People Before Profit and TUV each had one MP.
This year the DUP has been seen as cautious, fielding 30 candidates, while Sinn Fein field 34.
Meanwhile, the UUP fielded 27 candidates, the Alliance Party fielded 24, the SDLP fielded 22, the TUV fielded 19 candidates, the Green Party fielded 18 and People Before Profit 12, as did Aontu, while that the Workers’ Party is fielding six candidates and the PUP three.
The Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Socialist Party each field two candidates while the Northern Ireland Conservatives, Cross Community Labor Alliance (CCLA), Resume NI and Heritage Party each field one candidate.
There are 24 independent candidates.