East Belfast: McDonald's order of day for DUP as count drags on
AS the clock struck 3am with two seats still to be filled in East Belfast, the election buzz among the candidates and party faithful was understandably fading fast.
Belfast was the only count centre in Northern Ireland where hardy staff pressed on into the early hours of Saturday to get the result done in one sitting.
But with no end in sight, there was only one option for the DUP – order in a McDonald's.
The inviting smell of calorific Big Macs and fries wafted across the Titanic Exhibition Centre, making the wait all the more unbearable.
Alliance's deputy leader Naomi Long was elected to the constituency 12 hours earlier, but remained to support party colleague Chris Lyttle who retained his seat on the thirteenth count.
Ms Long will be back in the assembly after last year losing her Westminster seat to a unionist pact supporting the DUP's Gavin Robinson.
How does it feel to be returning to Stormont? "I'm looking forward to it," she said, before adding wearily, "At this stage of the night I'm probably looking forward to going to bed a bit more."
The bustle of the vast count centre had dwindled, but the marathon tally brought the Ulster Unionists their only success in Belfast.
Andy Allen was returned on the twelfth count, making him the city's only UUP MLA after the party lost its South Belfast seat.
Mr Allen was aged 19 when he had his right leg blown off and left leg badly injured by a makeshift bomb while on patrol in 2008 in Afghanistan.
The Army veteran, originally co-opted to the assembly last year, was warmly congratulated by party colleagues as the result came through in the early hours.
"I am delighted to have my own mandate, having increased the Ulster Unionist vote for 2011 and our vote share. It is an honour and a privilege to be elected," he said.
The DUP remained the biggest party after retaining its three seats, though it had to wait until the very end.
The party picked up both the first and last MLA seats to be declared of Belfast's four constituencies.
Roars of support filled the count centre earlier as newcomer Joanne Bunting was announced as topping the poll in the constituency.
But Sammy Douglas had to wait until the twelfth count to be returned, and at just after 3.30am Robin Newton was re-elected after picking up Belfast's last remaining seat.
A former Castlereagh councillor, Ms Bunting was selected by the party to contest the seat left vacant by Peter Robinson who stood down from the assembly.
Ms Bunting said she could never live up to the "enormous legacy" of the former first minister.
"I grew up knowing nothing other that Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley – I could never dream to step into those shoes," she said.
But she added: "I'm honoured to represent the people of East Belfast. I love my city and I love East Belfast and I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead."
Elected: Joanne Bunting (DUP), Naomi Long (Alliance), Sammy Douglas (DUP), Andy Allen (UUP), Chris Lyttle (Alliance), Robin Newton (DUP)