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Historic win for Sinn Fein as it becomes biggest party in Northern Ireland
7 May 2022, 19:01 | Updated: 7 May 2022, 19:55
Sinn Fein has become the biggest party in Northern Ireland, securing a historic victory for the nationalists.
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The party reached 27 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, pushing the DUP into second place.
It is the first time an Irish nationalist party has emerged as the largest at Stormont, after more than a century of unionist and protestant majorities in Northern Ireland.
For over 20 years, the DUP has been the country's biggest party.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill earlier said the party's success "ushers in a new era" for Northern Ireland.
In her declaration speech in Magherafelt after topping the poll in Mid Ulster, Ms O'Neill said: "Today represents a very significant moment of change.
"Today ushers in a new era which I believer presents us all with an opportunity to reimagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, on the basis of equality and the basis of social justice.
"Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds my commitment is to make politics work."
It comes amid fears of a united Ireland being on the cards within the next five years.
Tory Party chairman Oliver Dowden told Sky on Friday that he was confident the Government could "make the case" for Northern Ireland remaining in the UK but stressed a vote would only take place if there was "sustained majority" for a united Ireland.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: "I encourage the parties to form an executive as soon as possible. The people of Northern Ireland deserve a stable and accountable local government that delivers on the issues that matter most to them.
"The electorate delivered a number of messages on Thursday. They were clear that they want a fully functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland, they want the issues around the protocol addressed, and that they want politics to work better.
"Over the coming days I will be meeting with all the party leaders and will urge them to restore the Stormont institutions at the earliest possible moment, starting with the nomination of an Assembly Speaker within eight days.
"The Government remains committed to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and will continue to work with the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government to deliver its vision for reconciliation, equality, respect for rights and parity of esteem.
"Together, we must move forward towards a brighter future - that means delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland."
Meanwhile, Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said his party could act as an "honest broker", following the party's victory.
He said: "Congratulations to all the new assembly members and to Sinn Fein for earning the right to nominate a new first minister, it is healthy for Northern Ireland that parties from either community can nominate a first minister and shows the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement working.
"Unionism will still have a strong voice within powersharing and calls for progress on the remaining issues of the protocol have been heard and should not prevent a return to the executive.
"The Government must now prioritise practical solutions through negotiation with the EU and not chase headlines with empty threats."
This has been an historic election.— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) May 7, 2022
An election of real change.
I will lead the Sinn Féin team to Stormont on Monday, ready to get the Executive up and running right away.
To put money in people’s pockets.
To invest in our health service.
And to build a better future for all pic.twitter.com/orrFtCIVwl
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon congratulated Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and the party's vice president Michelle O'Neill.
She tweeted: "Many congratulations to @moneillsf and @MaryLouMcDonald on a truly historic result for Sinn Fein.
"I wish Michelle & her colleagues - & all Northern Ireland's elected representatives - the very best for what comes next & hope to see the NI government functioning again soon."
Some 239 candidates stood across 18 constituencies.
Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote proportional representation electoral system.