Sinn Fein is on course for its best ever result in a Northern Ireland Assembly election after receiving the most first-preference votes.
With counting for the 90 Stormont seats continuing late into Friday the republican party had won 16 seats, well ahead of the Alliance on four and the DUP and UUP on three.
Sinn Fein received 250,388 first preferences, compared with the 184,002 returned for the DUP and 116,681 for the Alliance Party.
The party’s vice president Michelle O’Neill was elected on the first count in Mid Ulster, with Alliance leader Naomi Long topping the poll in East Belfast.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was elected on the first count in Lagan Valley. He said he was delighted with his party’s performance there.
“I think it is going to be very tight at the end as to who will emerge as the largest party,” he said.
“One of the key messages for me is that unionism simply can’t afford the divisions that exist.”
Ms O’Neill was surrounded by party colleagues and supporters as the result was announced in the Magherafelt count centre. She received 10,845 first preference votes and the result was greeted by large cheers in the count centre.
She said that Sinn Fein wanted to “together work in partnership with others”.
The first MLA elected to the Stormont Assembly declared an Alliance Party surge. Kellie Armstrong was elected for the Strangford constituency on the first stage of the count with 7,015 votes.
Congratulated by Alliance leader Naomi Long, Ms Armstrong said it was the start of a surge for the party in the Assembly elections. “I’m absolutely delighted,” Ms Armstrong said. “I’ve held back using the word surge until now but I think I’m feeling it now. I’m absolutely delighted to top the poll.”
Counting is set to continue into Saturday.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson warned earlier that his party would not re-enter the Executive without government action over the protocol.
“If there’s no legislation in the Queen’s Speech and no plans to deal with the protocol then we’ve made it very clear the assembly can’t function if the poison of the protocol is still there,” he said.
But Sinn Fein MP John Finucane said people were more concerned about bread-and-butter issues. He said: “I believe the DUP during the campaign outlined a five-point plan as to how they were going to grow our economy, fix our health service and help working families. I don’t see how that is possible without an executive.”