Diane Dodds, Naomi Long and Martina Anderson elected to European Parliament
The Alliance Party has produced another strong election result in by landing a European parliamentary seat alongside Sinn Féin and the DUP.
Leader Naomi Long attracted almost 106,000 first preference votes, coming in just behind Martina Anderson and Diane Dodds in the first round of counting.
Her vote share is double that of the 53,052 gained by the UUP, which had been defending the seat Ms Long has now captured.
After five rounds of counting, the three elected MEPs were confirmed:
Stage 5 results. Diane Dodds, Naomi Long and Martina Anderson declared elected pic.twitter.com/7EOmgKGQhs— Electoral Office NI (@eoni_official) May 27, 2019
Ms Long was hugged by jubilant party supporters as she arrived at the count centre in Magherafelt, Co Derry, on Monday afternoon.
"I am speechless for once, "she said. "I am really delighted, I am thrilled."
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.
Ms Long said the vote showed that people in Northern Ireland still wanted to remain in the EU.
"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."
After third preference votes were counted, the DUP's Diane Dodds became the first candidate to be elected, totalling 155,422 votes - 12,310 over the quota.
Northern Ireland, which voted 56% Remain in the 2016 referendum, is now on course to return two Remain supporting MEPs and one Brexiteer.
European election results - total votes
Diane Dodds (DUP) 155,422 Elected after third round
Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin) 152,436.5 Elected after fifth round
Naomi Long (Alliance Party) 170,370 Elected after fifth round
Colum Eastwood (SDLP) 82,101
Jim Allister (TUV) 79,540
Danny Kennedy (UUP) 54,736 Excluded
Claire Bailey (Green Party) 12,471 Excluded
Robert Hill (Ukip) 5,115 Excluded
Jane Morrice (Independent) 1,719 Excluded
Neil McCann (Independent) 948 Excluded
Amandeep Singh Bhogai (Conservative Party) 662 Excluded
Former Alliance leader David Ford said the party could now lay claim to be the third biggest in Northern Ireland, having overtaken the UUP and SDLP.
"I think we potentially are now in that position," he told PA.
"At this stage it looks extremely good for Naomi and there's every chance she's in third place with potentially the highest vote the Alliance Party has ever had."
Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson topped the poll in first preference votes, with 126,951, ahead of the DUP's Diane Dodds with 124,991.
After second preference votes were counted, the UUP's Danny Kennedy was excluded. Martina Anderson gained 1,166 second preference votes pushing her total to 128,117 while Diane Dodds received 2,300 - a total of 127,291.
Naomi Long won 9,399 second preference votes, giving her a total of 115,327.
The quota is 143,112. The six candidates with the lowest first preference votes have been excluded: UUP's Danny Kennedy, Green Party leader Claire Bailey, the Conservative Party's Amandeep Singh Bhogal, Robert Hill of Ukip and independent candidates Neil McCann and Jane Morrice.
Fourth round results
Stage 4 results pic.twitter.com/G9mmvDYeWN— Electoral Office NI (@eoni_official) May 27, 2019
Third round results
Diane Dodds - 28,131
Martina Anderson - 73
Naomi Long - 6,936
Colum Eastwood - 1,152
Jim Allister - 15,668
Stage 3 results pic.twitter.com/yF5kIRZxjq— Electoral Office NI (@eoni_official) May 27, 2019
Second round results
Martina Anderson - 1,166
Diane Dodds - 2,300
Naomi Long - 9,399
Colum Eastwood - 2,360
Jim Allister - 1,851
Danny Kennedy - 1,684
Stage 2 results pic.twitter.com/fIhsNwAthL— Electoral Office NI (@eoni_official) May 27, 2019
First round results
Martina Anderson - 126,951
Diane Dodds - 124,991
Naomi Long - 105,928
Colum Eastwood - 78,589
Jim Allister - 62,021
Danny Kennedy - 53,052
Clare Bailey - 12, 471
Updated Stage 1 results pic.twitter.com/Ii6oAVzWP5— Electoral Office NI (@eoni_official) May 27, 2019
Martina Anderson said the result had sent a strong message to Europe.
"Absolutely delighted, our strategy has worked," she told the Press Association.
"We wanted to send a message back to the EU by, in the first instance, topping the poll and, more importantly, sending two Remainers back.
"Fifty seven per cent of the people who voted here voted to remain in the EU and they have sent a strong message back to Europe that they want to stay in the EU."
Arriving at the count centre, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "Of course, we would have preferred to have had two unionist MEPs returned - what we have instead is a nationalist MEP, a very strong unionist MEP and an MEP who identifies as neither.
"When I look at the votes, which I think is very important, I notice that unionism is still ahead by over 40,000 votes and of course I am very pleased about that.
"Obviously we would have preferred to see two unionist MEPs returned but I am absolutely delighted with our turnout today and the fact our vote has increased again."
Asked to explain the Alliance surge, Mrs Foster said there were a number of factors, including a low turnout and her contention that some people who voted Leave felt it unnecessary to register their view a second time.
"We found that when we spoke to people they said 'we have already voted, we told what you want, we want out of Europe'," she said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said she was equally delighted for Alliance candidate Naomi Long.
"We said clearly in this election this is a chance for people to come out and vote again against Brexit, that's clearly what's been borne out here in the election result.
"We think it's a good day for Remain - a good message sent back to Europe that we don't want to be dragged out of Europe against our wishes."
Ms Long is favourite to take the north's third seat ahead of SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
Stewart Dickson said last night that his party was "very hopeful" their leader could claim the seat following the party's strong performance in the local government elections.
"We are certainly expecting a significant increase in our vote," he said.
Eleven candidates were competing to become one of three MEPs to represent the north in Brussels and Strasbourg as counting takes place today.
Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson and the DUP's Diane Dodds are expected to retain their seats, leaving a battle for the final seat.
Although the Ulster Unionists currently hold the third seat, the fight is expected to be between Mrs Long and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
A win for either would mean two of the three MEPs returned would support Remain and, for the first time, only one of the three would be unionist.
Mr Dickson said his party hoped to follow in the footsteps of the Green party in the Republic which has seen a significant jump in its support as voters went to the polls in the local and European elections.
"It's different in Northern Ireland in that we had two separate elections," he said.
"I can say that the response we were getting on the doors was even better than the response we got during the local government elections."
Mr Dickson said at this stage it was unclear what effect a drop in turn-out will have on the overall result.
The turn-out was 45.14% - down more than 6% from the 2014 poll.
"What we don't know is why there was a drop and who actually did turn out," he said.
"Brexit has certainly confused things but for all the talk from the Tory party of us leaving the EU in October that is far from certain," he said.
"For all of us who wish to remain in the EU we can only hope that the Tory party implodes, Brexit does not happen and Article 50 is revoked."
Voters in the north went to the polls on Thursday of last week.
While counting began in Britain last night, votes are not tallied in Northern Ireland on Sundays.
Counting began at 8am today.
In the Republic, counting in the European elections continued late last night.
Voters went to the polls to choose 13 MEPs to represent the state.
Exit polls predicted a surge in support for the Green party amid predictions it could take an MEP seat in Dublin and to be in contention for two more in Midlands North-West and Ireland South.
Green Party candidate Ciaran Cuffe, is set to top the European election poll in Dublin.
The first official results from across the EU were being released late yesterday.