SF gains in NI vote as turnout highest since 1998

First time voter Francesca Drumm

The DUP and Sinn Fein, which wants a united Ireland, will have three weeks to agree on a new power-sharing arrangement or direct rule from London will be imposed.

Leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, Naomi Long, voted along with her husband Michael at St Colmcille's parochial house in the east Belfast constituency where she was once MP.

The DUP emerged with 28 seats despite suffering a backlash over allegations of financial mismanagement, while Sinn Fein got 27 of 90 seats available at the Stormont Assembly, becoming once more the second-largest party.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have fallen out over the unionist party's handling of a botched green energy scheme and a host of other issues.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation after his party's poor showing.

The result, which also handed fewer seats to a smattering of other parties, leaves unionists without a firm majority - and thus without veto power - for the first time since Ireland was partitioned in 1921, according to Reuters. But he again insisted that the party will not support DUP leader Arlene Foster as Northern Ireland's First Minister until she has been cleared of any wrongdoing related to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal, the failed energy scheme that is set to cost the public purse nearly £500 million.

The DUP has insisted Sinn Fein can not dictate who they nominate to lead the party in any restored Stormont Executive.

The elections - triggered by the collapse of devolved government in Northern Ireland six weeks ago following controversy over a botched green energy scheme - saw turnout hit its highest level, 65%, in nearly two decades.

Sinn Fein soaked up the symbolism of topping the poll in what was a stronghold for the DUP under Rev Ian Paisley.

Foster spoke of "challenging" results and conceded to Sky News that it "looks like it has been a very good day for Sinn Fein".

It is striking how male dominance of Northern Ireland's harsh politics has been vanquished.

"Some day Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy", he said.

"This characterisation that we should have given something to Sinn Fein to keep them appeased is not the way I do business".

If the three-week post-election deadline passes, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is legally obliged to call yet another election.

Indicating that he will remain in position until his successor is found, he said his real regret was that Northern Ireland's society appeared to have emerged from the election more polarised.

Tensions between the Catholic and socialist Sinn Fein and the Protestant and conservative DUP boiled over in January when Sinn Fein collapsed the government.

The elections were called after she refused to stand down as first minister after overseeing an energy subsidy scheme that could cost the executive hundreds of millions of pounds.

The DUP maintained the top spot, despite their vote share falling as the Sinn Fein share surged.



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