Election count at half-way stage
Counting in the election for Northern Ireland's new-look councils approached the half-way stage tonight, with the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein expectedly in the ascendancy.
The local government poll took place yesterday at the same time as the European parliament election.
While the 10 Euro candidates hoping to book one of three tickets to Brussels will have to wait until Monday to find out their fate, counting for the council seats took place throughout today and into the night and will conclude tomorrow.
Going into the poll, interest surrounded the performance of the Alliance Party, which has been fiercely criticised by loyalists over the last 18 months for its decision to support a vote in Belfast City Council to limit the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.
Speculation that Alliance's vote, particularly in Belfast, may have been hit hard due to the loss of erstwhile supporters within working class loyalist areas initially appeared unfounded tonight, with the party seemingly on course to record a solid showing.
The hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, whose leader and sole Assembly member Jim Allister is a vocal opponent of the DUP/Sinn Fein led coalition, was also confident of celebrating council gains tomorrow night.
The region's newest political party NI21 has failed to make an impact at the polls at a time when its very existence has been plunged into doubt after dramatic internal upheavals that have forced its leader Basil McCrea to deny allegations of sexual misconduct made by a former party worker.
At 10.45pm the DUP had won 53 seats, Sinn Fein 45, the Ulster Unionists 41, the SDLP 27, Alliance 11, TUV 6, Progressive Unionist Party 2, UKIP 2, one each for the Greens and People Before Profit Alliance, with five successful independent candidates.
The existing 26 local councils in Northern Ireland are being reorganised into 11 larger "super councils" with extra powers including planning and economic development.
After the results are finalised tomorrow evening, the new councils will operate in shadow form for a 10-month period, before officially replacing the current councils on April 1 2015.
More than 900 candidates were on ballot papers across Northern Ireland, chasing 462 council seats in the enlarged electoral districts.