The Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has won her party’s first European parliamentary seat after a breakthrough result that suggests the unionist-nationalist stranglehold is fading in some quarters of Northern Irish politics.
Long attracted almost 106,000 first preference votes, coming in just behind Sinn Féin and the DUP in the first round of counting.
It will be the first time an Alliance Party candidate has ever won a European seat.
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.
Northern Ireland, which voted 56 per cent Remain in the 2016 referendum, is now on course to return two Remain supporting MEPs and one Brexiteer.
David Ford, Former Alliance leader, said the party could now lay claim to being the third biggest in Northern Ireland, having overtaken the UUP and SDLP.
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.
Speaking on Monday evening, an emotional Long said she was overwhelmed by the results and thanked her “team” and the voters for placing their trust in her.
“I take it really seriously and I will serve [voters] to the absolute best of my ability,” she said. “They have my word.”
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.
— Naomi Long MEP (@naomi_long) May 28, 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.
Asked to explain the Alliance surge, Mrs Foster said: “We found that when we spoke to people they said ‘we have already voted, we told what you want, we want out of Europe’.”
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said she was “delighted” for 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.”