Anna Lo topped the poll in spectacular fashion. Last night, the Alliance Party woman received 6,390 votes, up from 3,289 in 2007. The 60-year-old emerged as the front runner from early on Friday, a sharp contrast to the the 2007 Assembly elections when she had to wait to the bitter end to find out her fate. There was no public declaration of her victory because the count was drastically behind schedule.
They say you can have too much of a good thing and that could be the case for Margaret Ritchie whose massive poll across South Down may have cost the SDLP a third seat in the constituency. The SDLP leader was the first politician to be re-elected last night with 8506 first preference votes. A beaming Ms Ritchie, who was supported by former SDLP leader Eddie McGrady, was lifted into the air by two of her male party colleagues to loud cheers at Lisburn Leisure Centre.
Peter Robinson's journey to political redemption reached another landmark as he topped the Assembly poll in the East Belfast constituency where he lost his Westminster seat. Twelve months ago the DUP leader experienced the lowest point of his career at Ards Leisure Centre, relinquishing the seat he held for 31 years, a defeat largely blamed on the fall-out from the scandal that engulfed his wife Iris. He cut an altogether different figure at the centre last night as supporters cheered him to the rafters as he emerged as top dog.
Ian Paisley Jnr's replacement at Stormont topped the poll. Paul Frew (DUP) secured 6,581 first preference votes to secure his return, followed by Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay and the DUP's Mervyn Storey. Three seats are left to fill in the constituency amid speculation Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister could secure the party's first seat in the Assembly.
Sinn Fein held on to its stronghold in west Belfast with two MLAs keeping their seats in the first count. Paul Maskey and Jennifer McCann stormed home with two party colleagues close behind them. Fra McCann and Sue Ramsey were poised to be returned to the Assembly, with the SDLP's Alex Attwood left battling for his place.
FERMANAGH AND SOUTH TYRONE
Westminster MP Michelle Gildernew romped to the top of the poll soon after counting got under way. The Sinn Fein candidate's 9,110 vote is 2,084 ahead of her 2007 first preferences, an increase that can be squared with a virtually identical collapse of the SDLP vote, and she has a surplus of 2,252. Mrs Gildernew, who overtook former minister Arlene Foster who slipped into third place behind UUP leader Tom Elliott.
The contrasting fortunes of Northern Ireland's two main unionist parties were summed up by results in North Down with the DUP topping the poll in a constituency that was once solid UUP country. The DUP’s Alex Easton topped the poll in emphatic fashion with 5,175 first preference votes, followed by party colleagues Gordon Dunne and Peter Weir.
Sinn Fein junior minister Gerry Kelly topped the poll but his DUP Executive colleague Nelson McCausland, who was elected on the first count, claimed it was a victory for his party. Mr McCausland, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, said the DUP had outpolled Sinn Fein by 12,000 votes to 10,000.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson was the runaway winner but the announcement that he topped the poll was delayed over a wrangle about nine votes. The colourful politician, who is also a Westminster MP, had more than 3,000 votes above the quota, but before the declaration, a rival candidate claimed nine votes had been put in the wrong box by electoral staff.
A huge Union flag was draped over candidates in Lagan Valley as the DUP and UUP gained a seat each in the first count of the day. Cheers erupted as Environment Minister Edwin Poots topped the poll with 7,329 votes, while the UUP's Basil McCrea came in second with 5,771 after a tense five-hour wait for the first count to be completed.
Six gruelling hours after counting began the first declaration was made and saw two candidates reach the quota of 5,550, despite a reduced turnout. The DUP’s William Hay, once again, topped the poll as expected with 7,154, up from 2007 elections when he polled 6,960. Martina Anderson of Sinn Fein was also elected comfortably on the first count with a poll of 6,950 a sizeable increase from the 2007 elections when she polled 5,414.
DUP man Gregory Campbell topped the poll once again after the first count with his stablemates George Robinson and Adrian McQuillan close behind him. But all eyes were on former Ulster Unionist David McClarty, who looks to have had the last laugh at the hands of his one-time colleagues as he almost trebled the amount of first preference votes. Standing as an independent, he stormed ahead of his young female replacement Leslie Macaulay.
Martin McGuinness predicted electoral gains for Sinn Fein as he romped to victory in his Mid-Ulster constituency. The Deputy First Minister repeated his poll-topping success of the 2007 Assembly election, securing 8,957 first preference votes. The DUP's Ian McCrea was also elected on the first count, bringing in 7,127 votes. Mr McGuinness said voters wanted the leadership of Sinn Fein and the DUP. “I'm satisfied that we're going to consolidate our position and maybe get some gains,” he said.
Sinn Fein was predicting a four-seat West Tyrone haul when the primary sort began in the constituency at Omagh Leisure Complex. When the belated first declaration came more than 25 hours after the polls closed it was the party's Barry McElduff who had again topped the poll, as he did in 2007, with 5,992 votes and his colleague Pat Doherty had also been elected on the first count. Their running mates Michaela Boyle polled 5,057 first preferences and Declan McAleer 3,016. With the quota set at 5,618, Ms Boyle seems certain to take the seat vacated by Claire McGill, but Mr McAleer has a scrap on his hands to make it four. The big talking point was the improvement in the UUP vote with Ross Hussey claiming 4,069 votes, outpolling his brother Derek, who four years ago lost the seat. He told reporters he was quietly confident his vote would hold up well.
NEWRY AND ARMAGH
It was the ‘same old, same old’ constituency, the only one out of 18 in which all six incumbent MLAs were having another go. It had also earned the unwelcome honour of being the only constituency not to have a female candidate. Not surprisingly, the Sinn Fein sitting MP Conor Murphy topped the poll with 9,127. That he would come out on top was never in doubt, as he is a well-known face in the constituency — and beyond — thanks to his position as Regional Development Minister. He wouldn't be drawn on his ministerial ambitions in the future and said, without much enthusiasm, that he “wouldn't mind” going back to DRD.
The DUP's Michelle McIlveen led her party to a resounding result in Strangford after emerging as the surprise poll topper. It was a remarkable personal performance from a candidate who four years ago sneaked the sixth seat in the constituency by a handful of votes after 14 counts. There were no such nerves this time as she notched 4,573 first preference votes, almost 300 ahead of Alliance candidate Kieran McCarthy Mr McCarthy (4,284) and the DUP's Jonathan Bell (4,265) were also elected on the first count. Fellow DUP man Simon Hamilton looks odds-on to secure a third seat for the party and Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt is also in with a shout.
Upper Bann? That will be a dog fight. Such was the prediction of one candidate, free to indulge in some schadenfreude as he rested easy after a good result on his patch. It wasn’t much of a fight for TUV candidate David Vance who polled just over 1,000 votes which saw him eliminated on the third count, along with Alliance candidate Sheila McQuaid. Still, last night lived up the chequered history of Upper Bann. Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd topped the poll – on this occasion, with 6649 votes.
Two DUP men and a leading figure in Sinn Fein celebrated side by side as they were elected on the first count. But the Alliance party's Justice Minister in the Stormont Executive narrowly missed getting in on the first count as well. David Ford was just 41 votes short of the quota. Paul Girvan of the DUP topped the poll and Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein was second in the count, 55 votes ahead of the DUP's Trevor Clarke.