The counting of votes at the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland continues for a second day.
More than 50 of the 90 seats are now filled.
A strong performance by Sinn Féin sees it as the largest party and able to appoint a prime minister for the first time, with the second-placed DUP having the right to appoint a deputy prime minister.
Sinn Féin’s performance showed there were “big questions” surrounding the future of the UK “as a political entity”, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this afternoon.
However, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson insisted his party had been “extremely successful”.
Arriving at the count at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Mr Donaldson said unionism “held on”.
“The trade unionist vote remains strong, we are the biggest designation in the Assembly, I think there is a lot of turnover around the results and I am very happy with the way the DUP has fared in our constituencies” , did he declare.
“We’ve had a remarkable number of seats where people were predicting all kinds of negative things, so we have a solid foundation we’re continuing to build on.”
Asked whether Northern Ireland will have devolved government in 2022, Mr Donaldson said: ‘Let’s cross all the bridges when we get there.’
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Ms Sturgeon said the results at Stormont cast doubt on the UK’s future, with strong nationalist performances in Scotland and Wales this week too.
Speaking to the PA news agency, after her party extended its lead in Thursday’s mayoral elections, Ms Sturgeon said: “If [Sinn Féin] to emerge as the largest party today in Northern Ireland, which seems very likely, will be an extraordinary result and something that seemed impossible not so long ago.”
She added: “There’s no doubt that big fundamental questions are being asked in the UK as a political entity at the moment.
“They’re being asked here in Scotland, they’re being asked in Northern Ireland, they’re being asked in Wales and I think we’re going to see fundamental changes in British governance in the years to come and I’m sure one of these changes will be the independence of Scotland.”
Coveney says Sinn Féin are the big winner
The Foreign Secretary called the elections in Northern Ireland historic.
Simon Coveney said Sinn Féin was undoubtedly the big winner and he said it was significant that “a nationalist party now becomes the biggest party”.
He also noted the performance of the Alliance Party, which he said was also a big message coming from the northern electorate.
“We see a common ground in Northern Ireland that does not want to be categorized as unionist or nationalist but wants a common ground policy to be strengthened.”
Speaking in Dublin, Mr Coveney said the days ahead will be difficult for all political parties in Northern Ireland and for the Irish and UK governments.
He admitted that the process of “establishing split government in an executive will not be easy”, following what he described as “a very polarizing election”.
“We know the DUP has specific issues they want to resolve, other parties have issues as well, and we will be talking to all parties and working with the UK Government, hopefully in partnership to try to resolve these problems. to ensure that we can create a basis of agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland to restore a functioning executive.”
He told RTÉ News he had been in contact with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, and had spoken to UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in recent days.
Mr Coveney said the Irish and UK governments needed to ‘work closely together to address the issues that we are all very aware of’.
He also thinks it is possible to address the DUP’s concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol.
“The European Union and the European Commission have shown a constant willingness to compromise and flexibility, and I think that will continue in the aftermath of this election.”
However, he warned he did not believe the EU would dismantle an international treaty to address the concerns.
Mr Coveney said “instead, we need to focus on pragmatism in terms of implementing the existing agreement with as much flexibility as possible, taking into account the legitimate concerns that have been raised”.