DUP to retain First Minister role as SF fails to make gains

Leader Arlene Foster hails ‘tremendous’ campaign as party repeats best ever haul

The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin will retain their position as the major parties in the power-sharing coalition administration at Stormont.

The DUP has replicated its historic performance of 2011 by again winning 38 seats in the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly election – providing strong validation of the stewardship of the recently appointed party leader Arlene Foster.

Sinn Féin fell just short of the 29 it achieved five years ago, taking 28 seats.

So it will be essentially “as you were” for the region’s largest parties in the next Assembly.


Ms Foster has hailed her party’s “tremendous” performance after an unexpected repeat of its best ever haul.

“It has been a tremendous election and I feel very energised by the fact the people have put their trust in us,” said Ms Foster, who topped the poll in her own Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

“It’s a strong endorsement of the direction of travel. We set out a five-point plan for a safer, stronger Northern Ireland, that is what have discussed right across the country as I criss-crossed across the country.”

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness also thanked his party’s supporters and candidates “who worked tirelessly throughout this campaign to promote the republican vision of an equal, united and prosperous Ireland.

“I would also like to thank the voters who once again placed their trust in Sinn Féin to lead the process of change and to deliver for all in our society.

“It is incumbent on all of those with a mandate to work together for the greater good in the face of many challenges including ongoing Tory attacks on our public services, poverty, inequality and division.

Counting finished just before 5pm on Saturday – with the final result being declared in Upper Bann, where Sinn Féin education minister John O’Dowd fended off former SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly for the sixth seat.

Seat totals

The DUP have 38 seats, Sinn Féin 28, the Ulster Unionists 16, the SDLP 12, Alliance eight, People Before Profit Alliance two, Green Party two, with the Traditional Unionist Voice and independent Claire Sugden winning one each.

DUP supporters are ecstatic with the performance, as many pundits had predicted a decrease on what was widely considered a high water mark in 2011.

Sinn Féin now miss out on the 30 seats that would have handed it the electoral strength to veto Assembly legislation using the much maligned “petition of concern” voting mechanism.

The SDLP and Ulster Unionists had disappointing elections, failing to mount a significant challenge to the hegemony of the major government partners.

While the UUP take 16 seats, like it did in 2011, it did not make the in-roads leader Mike Nesbitt had predicted.

The new power-sharing administration is set to face vocal criticism from the opposition benches at Stormont after the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) won two seats. In a remarkable performance for the socialist anti-austerity party, Gerry Carroll topped the poll in Sinn Féin's west Belfast heartland while veteran civil rights campaigner Eamonn McCann won a seat in Foyle.

The Green Party also secured two seats in the new mandate, with party leader Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey winning through.

Jim Allister, leader of the TUV and arch-critic of the last administration, retained his seat, though failed to bring any colleagues in with him.

During the campaign, Ms Foster placed particular onus on beating Mr McGuinness in the race to see which one of them took the First Minister’s job ahead of the Deputy First Minister’s job. The tactic was criticised by some by it appear to have paid dividend.

Among the high-profile political casualties were independent unionist John McCallister, who lost his South Down seat after nine years, and outgoing DUP MLAs David McIlveen and Ian McCrea.

The Alliance Party's Naomi Long and Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew will be making a return to the Stormont benches after previously serving as MPs.

Jenny Palmer, who quit the DUP amid allegations she had been bullied, took a seat from her former party when she was elected for the Ulster Unionists in Lagan Valley.

UUP leader Mr Nesbitt topped the poll in Strangford.

Former DUP health minister Jim Wells, who was embroiled in a series of controversies in the last term, was also re-elected in South Down.

The SDLP faced a tight battle to retain its single seat in West Belfast with Alex Attwood narrowly pipping the DUP's Frank McCoubrey by 89 votes.

In South Belfast, Claire Hannah, who was co-opted into the Assembly when former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell stood down, proved successful in her first test at the Assembly polls and was elected just after midnight.

Her running mate, former television reporter Fearghal McKinney was eliminated at stage 10.

Colum Eastwood, who was embarking on his first election as SDLP leader, retained his seat in Foyle.

Sinn Fein's Culture Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was also returned for another term in North Belfast, as was Gerry Kelly.

Former DUP political adviser Emma Pengelly, who was co-opted into the last Assembly, won a seat in her own right in South Belfast, as did former DUP Belfast deputy mayor Christopher Stalford.