The DUP last night was on course to remain significantly ahead of Sinn Féin and in line to hold on to the First Minister position, notwithstanding warnings that Martin McGuinness could take the top Stormont post from Arlene Foster.
While there are still a number of constituencies to be decided in the Northern Assembly elections today, there was little doubt last night that the DUP would remain comfortably ahead of Sinn Féin.
In 2011 the DUP won 38 seats while Sinn Féin won 29. The number of seats each party wins will not be known until later today, but last night it appeared the final outcome would be close to the results achieved by the two parties five years ago.
Outgoing Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Sinn Féin was likely to win 28, 29 or 30 seats. “It is clear that the electorate has charged the DUP and Sinn Féin to be the lead parties in the next Assembly and Executive,” he said.
One of the big stories of the election was the performance of People Before Profit and the Greens. PBP candidate Gerry Carroll topped the poll in West Belfast where Sinn Féin lost one of its five seats while in Foyle its candidate, Eamonn McCann, was in a strong position to be elected.
Sinn Féin switched Mr McGuinness from Mid Ulster to Foyle in the hope of taking a seat from the SDLP. In the end, however, it was on course to just hold its two seats, while at the time of writing Mr McCann was set to be elected at the expense of one of the SDLP’s three MLAs.
The leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Steven Agnew, was set to be returned in North Down while its candidate in Belfast South Clare Bailey was also poised to take a seat.
A total of 703,744 people voted in the 18 six-seater constituencies. The turnout was 54.91 per cent, which was down down on the 2011 Assembly turnout of 55.64 per cent.
As the counting at election centres continues today the SDLP, which won 14 seats in 2011, and the Ulster Unionist Party, which won 16, will be closely watching how the final seats are decided.
The seat of SDLP deputy leader Fearghal McKinney was under threat in Belfast South while the party had concerns about losing seats in constituencies such as Upper Bann and East Derry. It already seems likely it will lose a seat in Foyle.
was hoping that that these marginal seats could be saved or that any losses could be compensated by gains in areas such as
or Fermanagh South Tyrone.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt topped the poll in Strangford but again whether the party can get close to or above the 16 seats it won in 2011 will depend how the final seats conclude. He will have been buoyed however by the UUP taking back the party's seat from John McCallister in South Antrim and by winning a seat at the expense of the DUP in Lagan Valley.
This election also saw the return of former Alliance Belfast East MP Naomi Long who was easily returned in the constituency. Party leader David Ford was also elected in South Antrim. Mr Ford had hoped to win up to 11 seats but it seems Alliance will remain on or close to the eight seats it won in 2011.
At the time of writing Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister was on course to be safely returned in North Antrim. His hopes of bringing in his colleague Tim Gaston in North Antrim or of winning extra seats were unlikely to be realised.