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It's looking like a very, very good day for Sinn Féin in the North

The assembly’s executive could be suspended if Sinn Féin and the DUP can’t sort things out.

Ulster Assembly election 2017 Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 22:45

ARLENE FOSTER HAS, after a scare, retained her seat in the Northern Irish Assembly with a third of seats now filled.

Foster in the end topped the poll in her Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency after missing the quota on the first count.

At present, with more than 70 of 90 seats filled the vote breakdown is:

  • Sinn Féin – 24 seats
  • DUP – 21 seats
  • Alliance – 8 seats
  • UUP – 9 seats
  • SDLP – 9 seats
  • Other – 3 seat

As you can see, things are looking very rosy indeed for Sinn Féin.

Though the Republican party leads at present, the DUP is slightly ahead in terms of first preference votes and looks set to be the (slightly) dominant party once more.

However, Foster’s party looks certain to lose a chunk of the 38 seats it garnered in last year’s election, leaving her own position especially vulnerable given the recent ‘cash for ash’ scandal that brought down the last Assembly.

Things are not good for the Ulster Unionist Party, with its party leader Mike Nesbitt announcing his decision to step down following the party’s poor performance.

He said the electorate “did not give [him] a mandate big enough to feel justified in continuing in this position”.

Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O’Neill was earlier elected on the first count in her Mid Ulster constituency.

Turnout meanwhile is projected at 64.8%, a large increase on the 55% that voted in the 2016 election.

The election that could potentially bring Northern Ireland back under direct rule unless the DUP and Sinn Féin can break the deadlock.

The vote was triggered at the start of the year after Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned over First Minister Arlene Foster’s stance on the Cash for Ash controversy – although tensions over support for the Irish language, and other factors, had also been bubbling under in the months leading up to Sinn Féin’s decision to pull out.

The DUP won slightly more seats than Sinn Fein in last year’s election.

A similar result is forecast this time around, but Sinn Fein have said they will not work with the DUP if Foster is re-nominated.

Final results are not expected until tomorrow at the earliest. Counting began at 8am.

If the two parties cannot resolve their differences within three weeks of the vote, the assembly’s executive could be suspended and the North fully governed from London.

“We’re up for going back into government but only on the basis of equality, respect and integrity,” O’Neill said.

We cannot go into government with Arlene Foster as First or Deputy First Minister while there is a shadow hanging over her, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way forward.

The number of seats in the assembly drops from 108 to 90 this year. The change was decided on last year as a cost-saving measure.

- With reporting from AFP, Cianan Brennan and Sean Murray

Read: The Northern Ireland elections explained, in five controversies

Read: Arlene Foster couldn’t take questions at manifesto launch due to ‘man flu’

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