Northern Ireland

Former Assembly Speaker criticises poll count system

The outgoing Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP's Willie Hay, has strongly criticised the system for counting votes in NI elections.

He said anger was building among politicians over why it was taking a lot longer here than in other parts of the UK.

Mr Hay said that after the election, a system must be put in place to get quicker results.

"It's the system," he said. "We need a better system."

Meanwhile, the first results emerging from the NI Assembly election have produced no shocks so far.

In Newry and Armagh, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy topped the poll and the SDLP's Dominic Bradley and Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy have also been elected.

Upper Bann

Mr Murphy received 9,127 first preference votes, Mr Kennedy 8,718 and Mr Bradley 7,123.

In Upper Bann, Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd has been elected with 6,649 first preference votes.

Gregory Campbell of the DUP was re-elected for East Londonderry on the first count.

Edwin Poots of the DUP and the UUP's Basil McCrea were elected in Lagan Valley on the first count.

In South Down, the SDLP's Margaret Ritchie was re-elected on the first count.

William Hay, DUP, and Martina Anderson, Sinn Fein were elected on the first count in Foyle.

Earlier, there had been mounting criticism over the slow pace of the counting of votes in the elections.

The chief electoral officer was challenged by some politicians angry that by tea-time no results had emerged from the count which began at 0900 BST.

The DUP's Nigel Dodds said it was "now getting to the ridiculous stage".

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said there was "concern and dismay... that we have not one seat allocated".

Meanwhile, early indications are that the DUP and Sinn Fein look set to lead the next Assembly.

However, the outlook for the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists is less certain with some candidates struggling to hang on to their seats.

Official figures showed the turnout percentage to be well down on previous polls.

It is estimated to be in the low 50s, a slump from around 62% in 2007.

Less than half the electorate voted in North Down, while the figure in West Tyrone fell from 71% to 64%.

Counting in the UK-wide Alternative Vote Referendum was delayed by 35 minutes in Northern Ireland.

Chief Electoral Officer Graham Shields said the delay was ordered by the Electoral Commission because the verification of votes had not been completed in three constituencies.

He said his team was subsequently given the green light to proceed.

There are indications that some well known politicians could be under pressure to hold on to their Assembly seats.

However, Anna Lo, the Alliance candidate in south Belfast, said she was hopeful that she would top the poll in that constituency.

The final make-up of the new assembly should be known by Saturday.

Tallying process

As the election workers check whether they have the right number of votes, agents for the political parties are looking over their shoulders trying to spot how many first preferences their candidates are getting and how many are going to their rivals.

This tallying process provides the first inklings in what will be a lengthy counting process.

About 1,200 election workers will be counting votes over the next few days.

They have to open more than 4,000 ballot boxes to check they contain the same number of ballot papers as were handed out by staff at the polling stations.

Once staff have finished their checks, they will start counting the white assembly papers.

The brown council papers will not be counted until Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Radio Ulster news will keep you updated throughout the day -- and News Online will have the results as they happen.

Politicians and pundits will also be giving their reaction on news online, radio and television.