Sinn Fin close the gap on DUP in NI Assembly – BBC News

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt is to resign after a poor Assembly election result for his party

The Democratic Unionist Party has been narrowly returned as the biggest party but Sinn Fin was the biggest winner in the NI Assembly election.

The party has come within a seat of drawing level with the DUP, which came into the election with 10 more seats.

There were a number of electoral surprises – the most dramatic was the announcement by Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt that he was to resign.

Sinn Fin and the DUP have three weeks to establish a government.

A total of 64.8% of the electorate voted – up 10 points on last year’s assembly election.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Voting took place at various polling stations in Northern Ireland on Thursday

Former First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster, Sinn Fin’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood are among those elected.

Mike Nesbitt won his seat at the Strangford count but shortly afterwards, he announced that he was to stand down as Ulster Unionist leader following his party’s poor performance.

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.

“Some day Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy,” he said. “We will vote in a post-sectarian election, but it’s now clear it will not happen during the duration of my political career.”

Image copyright AFP
Image caption SDLP stalwart Alex Attwood’s tenure at Stormont was brought to an end

While Mr Nesbitt held his Assembly seat, other high-profile MLAs were not so lucky.

The SDLP’s Alex Attwood, the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, and the DUP’s Nelson McCausland and Lord Morrow were four former executive ministers who failed to secure a return to a Stormont legislature that is being cut from 108 to 90 members.

Other casualties include the UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson, former DUP minister Jonathan Bell, who stood as an independent, and People Before Profit’s Eamon McCann who was elected as an MLA last May but lost his seat in Foyle.

The turnout for the election was the highest since the vote which followed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

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Image caption Martin McGuinness resigned over Mrs Foster’s refusal to step aside as first minister pending an inquiry into a botched energy scheme

The election – the second in 10 months – was called after the collapse of a coalition led by Arlene Foster’s DUP and Sinn Fin’s Martin McGuinness.

Mr McGuinness resigned over Mrs Foster’s refusal to step aside as first minister pending an inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, which could cost the Northern Ireland tax payer 490m.

Under Northern Ireland’s power-sharing agreement, the government must be run by Irish nationalists and unionists together.

The largest unionist and nationalist parties after the election will have three weeks to form a power-sharing government to avoid devolved power returning to the British parliament at Westminster for the first time in a decade.

A total of 1,254,709 people were eligible to vote for 228 candidates competing for 90 seats in 18 constituencies.

The BBC News NI website will carry all the latest on the election throughout the weekend.

There will also be special election programmes running on BBC Radio Ulster from 09:00 GMT .

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