Anderson delivers Sinn Fein victory
Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson has become the first Euro MP elected in Northern Ireland after topping the poll with almost 160,000 votes.
Fellow outgoing MEP Democratic Unionist Diane Dodds should also re-book her ticket to Brussels after notching more than 131,000 first preferences.
But the wife of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds did not reach the required quota on the first round of counting at the King's Hall in Belfast and will have to wait for confirmation of her success to later in the count.
The third incumbent Jim Nicholson of the Ulster Unionists is currently ahead in the race to secure the third seat but the contest is tighter than he would have liked.
With just under 83,500 votes, Mr Nicholson is ahead of the SDLP's Alex Attwood on around 81,600 and the Traditional Unionist Voice's Jim Allister, who polled more than 75,800.
The second round of counting has now commenced with the second preference votes of the lowest polling candidate, the NI Conservatives Mark Brotherston, who received around 4,150, being transferred among the remaining nine candidates in the race.
In the first round Alliance's Anna Lo notched nearly 44,500, Ukip's Henry Reilly received almost 24,600, the Green Party's Ross Brown got around 10,600, which was just a few dozen votes more than Tina McKenzie from NI21.
The poll took place last Thursday at the same time as Northern Ireland's local government election.
Counting for seats on the region's new-look councils started on Friday and ended in the early hours of yesterday.
As expected, the DUP and Sinn Fein secured the lion's share.
Mrs Anderson insisted she had never taken her favourite tag in the election for granted.
"I am very honoured and proud that almost 160,000 people throughout the north have voted for myself," she said.
The former Stormont junior minister hailed her party's success as it was poised to take four seats across the island.
"For the first time every voter in Ireland is going to be represented by Sinn Fein," she said.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was among those cheering his party colleague's victory north of the border.
"It's a good day for Sinn Fein but I also think it's a good day for the people of the island," he said.
"We will now hopefully have more conversations, more discussion, more debate about citizens' rights, about a united Ireland and about the peace process."
Ms Dodds said if elected she would deliver the best deal in Brussels for Northern Ireland.
Noting the huge changes across the political landscape in Europe following the election, she said main parties in the UK had to acknowledge that the British people wanted a voice on the future of the EU.
"It is a signal to both Labour and the Conservatives - the British people want a say on our relationship with Europe," she said.
"That democratic legitimacy has run out and people are saying that they want a referendum, we want it sooner rather than later and we want the debate about our relationship with the rest of Europe."
No candidates reached the quota on the second count and Mrs Anderson's surplus votes are being redistributed in the third stage.
The distribution of Mrs Anderson's surplus is due to finish at around 11 pm. Election officials have predicted that, after that point, it will take at least another eight hours to complete the count.
Officials are currently in consultation with counting staff to establish if working through the night is feasible or whether the count should be suspended to resume in the morning.
The count is being conducted using the single transferable vote method.
Chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland Graham Shields said the particular way the count had developed, with the requirement to recount all Mrs Anderson's ballots in order to distribute her surplus, had not been anticipated.
He insisted lack of counting staff was not the issue, noting that 270 had been employed.
"We knew we were here for a long day and we potentially expected to be here if we needed to be into the early hours of the morning but I don't think anybody could have reasonably foreseen that a count would have run into two days, for 24 hours," he said.
Mr Shields said the episode underlined the need for electronic vote counting in Northern Ireland.
"The electronic counting process, in my opinion, is an absolute necessity for going forward because none of us want to be here for days on end."
The latest controversy about the length of time a count has taken in Northern Ireland comes after similar delays at the Assembly elections in 2011.
North Belfast MP Mr Dodds, who faces a long wait to hear confirmation of his wife's election, heavily criticised the Electoral Office.
"I think it is a disgrace that once again the Electoral Office has operated things here at a count which has made Northern Ireland look a complete shambles in terms of counting votes," said the DUP deputy leader.
"There is absolutely no reason under the sun this shouldn't be done and dusted long before now and completed and the fact is, it seems to me, the Electoral Office simply hasn't put on enough staff. They never seem to do that."
Mr Dodds added: "There is frustration amongst all parties about just how long this is taking and about the fact everywhere else in Europe has finished a long, long time ago and I just can't believe that we are once again in this situation in a Northern Ireland election and I think it does diminish democracy.
"People are entitled to have these votes declared in a timely and efficient way and it really does bring us into disrepute when it doesn't happen."