Gerry Adams’s Sinn Féin and Ian Paisley’s DUP have continued to add seats in the election to the Belfast Assembly as counting continued late into the night in some centres.
Under the established d’Hondt rules for dividing power in Belfast, the DUP and Sinn Féin will dominate any new Six County executive, with both set to take one third of the Ministerial positions each, including the positions of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
A new power-sharing executive is supposed to be formed on 26 March, although that date is in continuing doubt this evening after fresh hardline statements today from ‘First Minister-elect’, Ian Paisley.
There was no possibility of either party questioning the other’s mandate, however.
In an extraordinary performance in West Belfast Sinn Féin took five seats on 70% of the first preferences, with the DUP’s Diane Dodds losing her seat.
In Upper Bann, Sinn Féin’s Paul Butler gained a seat for the party for the first time -- with a future possibility of a second -- while Alex Maskey was returned as expected in South Belfast.
PUP leader Dawn Purvis retained her party’s only seat in East Belfast, previously occupied by now deceased party leader David Ervine.
Reg Empey, leader of the sidelined UUP, admitted the results had been disappointing for his party, but that their aim remained a “functioning, devolved Stormont”.
The SDLP’s Mark Durkan said: “We have held up our vote. Let’s wait until the count is over, we will see how it stacks up.”
The party was cheered after it held off a challenge by the DUP to secure four seats in north Antrim, with Declan O’Loan - husband of Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan winning an Assembly seat for the first time.
British Direct Ruler Peter Hain urged the new intake of assembly members to deliver devolved government.
“It is clear from the early set of results that people in Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly for power sharing and they want their politicians to run with it on March 26,” he said.
The arrest of unsuccessful independent republican candidate, Gerry McGeough, outside the count centre in Omagh continued to provoke controversy.
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement, which backed McGeough’s campaign, described the arrest as “disgraceful”. It said the action was an attack on his mandate and “a shot across the bows of Mr Adams and his party and a reminder that they must fully endorse British law in Ireland and the political establishment that enacts such laws”.
So far, 72 of the 108 seats have been filled. The breakdown is as follows:
First preference result: Final seats prediction: DUP: 30.1% (25.7% in 2003) 33-38 seats (30 seats in 2003) SF: 26.2% (23.5% in 2003) 27-29 seats (24 seats in 2003) SDLP: 15.2% (17.0% in 2003) 14-18 seats (18 seats in 2003) UUP: 14.9% (22.7% in 2003) 14-18 seats (27 seats in 2003) All.: 5.2% (3.7% in 2003) 5-7 seats (6 seats in 2003) Ind: 3.2% (2.8% in 2003) 0-2 seats (1 seats in 2003) Green: 1.7% (0.3% in 2003) 0-1 seats (0 seats in 2003) UKUP: 1.5% (0.8% in 2003) 0-1 seats (1 seats in 2003) PUP: 0.6% (1.2% in 2003) 1 seats (1 seats in 2003)