Low turnout as Sinn Fein and DUP poised for North success
The DUP and Sinn Fein last night were poised for a resounding success in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, with predictions of significant losses for the Ulster Unionist Party.
But the results will come against the background of a record low voter turnout -- which is predicted to reach a figure of 55pc or lower.
The election process has also been hit by slow vote counting across the North, with the first handful of results declared 20 hours after the polls closed and 10 hours after ballot boxes were opened.
Election officials blamed the complexity of having to deal with ballot papers from the Assembly election, local council elections and the UK-wide AV referendum at the same time.
But tallies of party performance gave clear indications of a strong showing by the DUP and Sinn Fein, as well as gains for the cross-community Alliance Party.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said: "We didn't ask for a mandate from the people to enhance the standing of the Democratic Unionist Party, we asked for a mandate to keep Northern Ireland moving forward."
Mr Robinson was set to romp home in East Belfast despite having lost the constituency's Westminster seat in the general election.
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said there was "considerable dismay" over the delay in vote counting.
But he welcomed indications of success for Sinn Fein and said the electorate was endorsing the parties who had co-operated to deliver for people at Stormont.
The final shape of the 108-seat Stormont legislature will not be known until this evening. But the delays in counts were not all blamed on the complexity of the process.
In the Omagh, Co Tyrone, count centre, electoral staff reportedly used hairdryers to peel apart votes that had become sodden when a ballot box got wet in the rain.
The first result declared last night was in the border constituency of Newry and Armagh, where sitting Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy topped the poll. The SDLP's Dominic Bradley and Ulster Unionist Party's Danny Kennedy were also elected on the first count.
But across Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party in particular seemed in danger of suffering losses. This follows a disastrous general election in which its partnership with the Conservatives failed to win it a single seat.
There is even a risk that the Ulster Unionist Party could slip into fourth place at the Assembly, behind the nationalist SDLP.
Cameron vows to resist break-up of UK after SNP victory: Page 26