Emotional Long 'speechless' at EU election result - Alliance leader to quit as MLA
The leader of the cross community party was expected to win a seat.
Alliance leader Naomi Long has said that she was "speechless" at her performance in the European Parliament elections.
The leader of the cross community party, attracted almost 106,000 first preference votes, coming in just behind Sinn Fein and the DUP in the first round of counting.
Her vote share is double that of the 53,052 gained by the Ulster Unionist Party, which had been defending the seat Mrs Long is now poised to capture.
Northern Ireland, which voted 56% Remain in the 2016 referendum, is now on course to return two Remain supporting MEPs and one Brexiteer.
After celebrating with her party colleagues Mrs Long announced that she intends to stand down as an MLA due to the workload involved in being both an MLA and MP.
Mrs Long said that the constituency work involved in being an MLA would make it impossible to do both jobs to the best of her ability.
"There is no way I would have tried to juggle both even if I could," she said.
A new MLA will be selected from within the party for Mrs Long's Assembly seat in East Belfast.
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The Alliance leader was given a rapturous welcome by party supporters as she arrived at the count centre.
"I am speechless for once, "she said
"I am really delighted, I am thrilled."
The former East Belfast MP said the size of her vote was "beyond expectations". Her voice broke as she thanked the people who voted for her.
"I take it really seriously and I will serve them to the absolute best of my ability - they have my word on that," she said.
Mrs Long said her party's strong result in this month's local council elections had built momentum.
"In the local government elections I think people saw for the first time that voting Alliance outside greater Belfast would get you Alliance elected representatives - I think that gave them the confidence to go and vote Alliance again," she said.
Mrs Long said the vote had also delivered a message on Brexit.
"I was really clear when I went out campaigning what I want the vote to stand for and it's a vote to remain, it's a vote to have a 'People's Vote' and that's what this vote means," she said.
"For those who try to misappropriate it - and try to put it into unionist and nationalist boxes - I am not having that. The people who voted for me came together from right across the community, regardless of unionism, regardless of nationalism, regardless of all those labels, they came together behind Alliance to send a message.
"And that message is - we want to remain in the EU, give us a 'People's vote' and let us have the final say."
Mrs Long said the pro-Remain vote across the UK was the strongest it had been for years. She expressed confidence Brexit could be stopped.
"I think we can and if we don't it won't be for a want of trying," she said.
The former Belfast mayor said she would remain Alliance leader despite having to give up her seat in the Assembly, expressing hope the term in Europe would prove to be five years.
"There will be no one more delighted than me if this ends up being a five-year term," she said.
She said Alliance was benefiting from public disaffection with traditional politics in Northern Ireland.
"I think people are tired of the fact that the stale politics of the past isn't delivering and I think what we are offering for people are solutions to the problems we have, not just more problems," she said.
"I am totally blown away by the result."
The DUP's Dianne Dodds was first elected after transfers from the UUP's Danny Kennedy took her over the line.
Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson is set to take the second seat.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who had been hoping to win back a seat former leader John Hume held for 25 years, notched 78,589 first preferences.
UUP candidate Danny Kennedy limped in sixth in the first round, behind the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party Jim Allister, who scored 62,021 votes.
Green Party leader Clare Bailey got 12,471 first preferences; Conservative Amandeep Bhogal got 662; Ukip’s Robert Hill 5,115; independent Neil McCann got 948; and Jane Morrice, also an independent, got 1,719.