Sinn Féin headed the poll for the first time in the European elections in Six Counties while the DUP, poll-topper at every other European election, had to be content with taking the third seat.

Bairbre de Brun was elected on the first count for Sinn Féin with 126,000 votes or 26 per cent of the vote, more than 5,000 votes over the quota.

The surprise of the election was the split in the hardline unionist vote with DUP candidate Diane Dodds winning almost exactly half (88,000) the number of votes Jim Allister won in 2004 when he headed the poll for the DUP.

Mr Allister split from the DUP over the 2006 powersharing deal with Sinn Féin, taking his seat in the European Parliament with him. Campaigning on his opposition to Sinn Féin or “terrorists in government”, Mr Allister failed to hold his seat, but polled strongly as leader of the ultra-unionist ‘Traditional Unionist Voice’, winning 66,000 votes.

Jim Nicholson, who has held a seat for the Ulster Unionist Party since 1989, retained his seat comfortably under the new banner of the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force (UCUNF).

The turnout was a low at just under 43 per cent. A significant decline in the turnout in nationalist and republican areas prevented the SDLP candidate Alban Maginnis from contesting for the third seat. The combined nationalist vote was down by over 30,000, while the combined unionist vote decreased by 3,000 votes.

Ian Parsley for the moderate unionist Alliance won 26,700 votes, one of its best ever results, although cynics pointed to the close similarity between his name and that of the former DUP leader Ian Paisley as the main reason for the rise.

Both Ms Dodds and Mr Allister refused to shake hands with Ms de Brun at the final declaration.

Allister’s supporters heckled a dignifiedf Ms de Brun during her speech, particularly when she spoke in Irish. Some erupted in fury at the very sound of Gaelic and staged a walkout.

They also barracked Ms Dodds during her acceptance speech.

DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson expressed disappointment at the result. He said he understood many in the unionist community opposed sharing power with Sinn Féin, but “people need to know that there is no more acceptable alternative available”.

In turn, Allister declared his “success” was for every traditional unionist who refused to roll over before “IRA/Sinn Féin”, before adding: “We haven’t gone away, you know. Our day will come.”

“Unionists who were grossly disillusioned, who felt that the cause was lost, who woke up and saw Martin McGuinness as their joint First Minister, and thought no one could do anything about it, have seen that there is the beginning of a huge foundation to rebuild traditional unionism in this province,” he said.

He said the TUV would contest other Westminster seats and stand in the next Assembly elections. He also indicated his intention to stand in North Antrim in the next Westminster elections, when Ian Paisley stands down.

On Wednesday, the DUP MP issued a challenge to the TUV leader. Speaking from Westminster, Mr Paisley said his former DUP colleague was “very welcome to come and get a hiding in North Antrim”.

Mr Paisley said although the TUV polled well in the European elections, his party was still defeated by the DUP.

He said: “The election was won because he didn’t get a seat.

“He stole the seat [in the European Parliament] from me, Jim Allister had not political breath except for what he took from me.”

Speaking to the BBC on Thursday Mr Allister said the former DUP leader’s words were “hollow”.

“Ian Paisley tries to claim it as a triumph. He says there was no defeat, everyone knows there was a defeat,” he said.

“If the DUP are in the business of sleep-walking out of Monday into the future, well I’m quite content that the good people of North Antrim and elsewhere will continue to give us the resounding type of result there was on Monday.

“What we need is a system where you can have opposition, people who are both in and out of government.

“A voluntary coalition where those that are in government are bound by policies that they all support.”

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