SF expected to top EU poll results in the North

Sinn Féin is being widely tipped to top the poll when the European election results are counted in the North tomorrow.

Sinn Féin is being widely tipped to top the poll when the European election results are counted in the North tomorrow.

This comes as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is braced to suffer a major hit in an election that saw a low voter turnout of only 42.8%.

Unofficial tallies have given Sinn Féin a comfortable lead on the pack, holding out the prospect that it could become the first republican or nationalist party to ever top a Northern Ireland election.

The same estimates suggest the DUP has been badly hit by disaffection among its own voters in the wake of the Westminster expenses scandal and by a successful challenge from unionist hardliner Jim Allister.

The former DUP member who split from the party over its decision to enter government with Sinn Féin, and who now leads the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, is predicted to have secured more than 10% of the vote.

The unofficial projections are based on estimates from party officials who watched election staff verify ballot papers at the King’s Hall Count Centre in Belfast on Friday.

Speculation over the parties’ performances will, however, end tomorrow when official results are declared.

Counting begins at 9am and the first results are expected by the afternoon.

It has been confirmed that 42.8% of people eligible to vote cast a ballot – a major drop on the figure of 51.72% at the last European election.

Turnout figures were also available for Northern Ireland’s 18 Westminster constituencies, which showed that regions of unionist voting strength suffered lower turnouts than areas that are predominantly nationalist.

The highest turnout of 52.83% was in the Mid Ulster area – a constituency which returned Sinn Féin’s deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as MP at the last General Election.

The lowest turnout of 34.24% was registered in Strangford – where Iris Robinson, wife of the DUP First Minister Peter Robinson, is MP.

The total votes polled across the North was 488,891 from a eligible electorate of 1,141,979.

The region has seven candidates fighting for the three European Parliamentary seats.

They are Stephen Agnew of the Green Party, Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice, Bairbre de Brun of Sinn Féin, Diane Dodds of the DUP, Alban Maginness of the SDLP, Jim Nicholson of the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists, and Ian Parsley of the Alliance party.

In the last European election, the DUP topped the poll with 32% of the first preference votes – but there are predictions that its result on Monday could drop to 20% or lower.

Other estimates suggested Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun could improve on her last European election performance of 26% of first preferences.

One tally showed the Ulster Unionist Party – which formed a new electoral pact with the Conservative Party prior to this election – securing more first preference votes than the DUP.

But with Sinn Féin believed to have secured a seat, the performance of the three unionist parties as they fight for the remaining two seats with the nationalist SDLP will be closely watched tomorrow.

Northern Ireland has built a reputation for high voter turnout – though European contests have traditionally polled lower figures than other elections.

The last election to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007 saw a 63.5% turnout.

The General Election of 2005 saw a turnout of 63.49% in the North.

And at the previous General Election in 2001, turnout reached 68.63%.

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