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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK
Three NI Euro seats decided
Jim Allister, Bairbre de Brun and Jim Nicholson are elected

The DUP's Jim Allister has topped the poll in the European election with Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun and the UUP's Jim Nicholson also taking MEP seats.

Mr Allister polled 175,761 first preference votes and Ms de Brun 144,541. Both were elected on the first count.

Mr Nicholson polled 91,164 first preference votes. He was elected at the third stage with 147,058 votes.

Even before the third seat was declared, the SDLP's Martin Morgan conceded defeat to Mr Nicholson. Mr Morgan received 87,559 first preference votes.

It is the first time a Sinn Fein candidate has taken one of Northern Ireland's seats at the European parliament.

Mr Morgan's defeat meant the SDLP for the first time did not have an MEP.

The three other candidates were eliminated at the second stage.

DUP: +3.6
Sinn Fein: +8.98
UUP: -1.01
SDLP: -12.1

Speaking after his election, Mr Allister said: "We had a range of expectation and this is very much at the upper end, if not beyond that expectation.

"It is very gratifying, because when we went into this election we made it very clear that we had a win-win strategy for unionism and it has worked for unionism."

Ms de Brun said: "We join with Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin and I am really happy about the answer people have given Sinn Fein across the island.

"One of the things that people were saying to us quite clearly on the door was that the vision of being able to walk in through the doors of the European Parliament - one from the north and one from the south - and putting forward the all-Ireland agenda in the heart of Europe is very important."

Mr Nicholson, who secured his fourth term in the Parliament, said the DUP needed to deliver on its mandate. "I was one of the first to accept that we are now the minority unionist party, but they have got to deliver.

"They have made promises to the people that they have not delivered upon. The ball is in their court and we have got to wait and see what they are going to do in the future."

Mr Morgan said the SDLP was still on course to retain at least two of its Westminster seats despite further slippage in its vote. "I think we can hold our heads up high," he said.

"We may have slipped by one per cent but some pundits were totally writing us off at the outset of this campaign."

The count began at 0900 BST on Monday - four days after voters went to the polls to elect three members to the European Parliament.

The count was delayed to allow all the European Union member states to complete their elections.

Ballot papers from all over Northern Ireland were packed into 120 boxes at the King's Hall in Belfast where they were held at a secure location over the weekend.

A team of 300 people at the hall counted the ballot papers.

NI polling station
Turnout was 5% down on the last European election

Turnout at the poll was down by more than 5% on the 1999 poll.

Out of more than one million people eligible to vote, the final figure was 51.72%.

The poll was heaviest in the west of the province with Fermanagh/South Tyrone registering the highest poll at 66.75%, while turnout was lowest in North Down, with 38%.

The figures were calculated after electoral officials checked all the ballot papers on Friday to ensure the vote was in order.

Officials at eight different centres checked that the number of votes in the ballot boxes matched those cast the previous day.

The BBC's Mark Simpson
"For the first time in the history of Northern Ireland a Sinn Fein member has been elected to Europe"

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