Sinn Fein has secured a historic victory by becoming the largest single party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. With 88 of the 90 Stormont seats declared, the republican party has won 27, putting it ahead of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which fell by three seats to 24.
The victory means Sinn Fein is entitled to the post of First Minister in Belfast, a first for an Irish nationalist party since Northern Ireland was founded as a Protestant-majority state in 1921.
The two Sinn Féin candidates who brought the party’s total 27 MLAs were Colm Gildernew and Áine Murphy in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
The DUP’s Deborah Erskine was also returned.
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said shortly before the final results were announced: “Today ushers in a new era.”
He continued: “Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds, my commitment is to make politics work.”
It is the first time a party seeking a united Ireland has topped the poll in the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly and its success is predicted to lead to further stalemate in the province and uncertainty over border arrangements.
Sinn Fein had received the largest share of first-preference votes in last Thursday’s elections, at 29 percent, and its symbolic victory was confirmed when the counting of constituency seats under the complex transferable vote system was completed on Saturday evening.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “On May 5, the people of Northern Ireland voted in the seventh election for their devolved legislature since the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
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“The political and economic progress enjoyed over this period is a testament to the benefits of a locally accountable power-sharing government that reflects Northern Ireland’s diverse traditions.
“We call on Northern Ireland’s political leaders to take the necessary steps to re-establish a power-sharing executive, which is one of the core institutions established by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
“Critical and immediate challenges concerning the economy, health, and education are best addressed through the collective efforts of a devolved government chosen by, and accountable to, its people.
“The United States enjoys a deep and long-standing relationship with Northern Ireland, grounded in ties of kinship, culture, commerce, and shared values.
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“We remain deeply committed to preserving the peace dividend of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and will always strive to protect these gains for all communities.
“We look forward to continuing our work with democratic partners in Northern Ireland, and with the Governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland, to support peace, prosperity, and stability across the region.”