The gap between the SDLP and Sinn Fein in Derry has been cut to fewer than 500 votes, the results of Thursday’s Assembly election show.
The SDLP polled a total of 13699 first preference votes in the election while Sinn Fein received 13200 first preference votes - a gap of just 500 votes.
The difference between the two parties in last year’s Westminister election was just under 5,000 votes, now it is less than 500.
A total of 39,686 were cast in the Assembly election and the quota was set at 5,550.
The DUP’s William Hay topped the poll and was elected on the first count with a total of 7,154 votes.
Sinn Fein’s Martina ANderson was also elected on the first count with 6,950 first preference votes.
It is the first time a Sinn Fein candidate has been elected on the first count in the Foyle constituency.
Before the count, SDLP sources had predicted that Mark H Durkan would top the poll but he received 4,970 first preference votes, just over 500 votes under the quota.
Ms Anderson polled just 204 votes fewer than Mr Hay.
The declaration that both MLAs had been returned to the Assembly was made shortly after 9pm at the count centre at Lisneal College by deputy returning officer, Patricia Murphy, more than twelve hours after the counting process began.
Shortly before the declaration was made, the process was thrown into chaos when it emerged that there was a discrepancy of 197 votes between the votes that were verified and the total counted, prompting fears of a full recount.
However, the missing ballot papers were found a short time later and the count proceeded.
The result marks a rise of 4 per cent in Sinn Fein’s share of the vote from the 2007 Assembly election.
Speaking after being elected, Ms Anderson said the result indicates the growth of Sinn Fein in Derry.
“For a long time Sinn Fein have been second fiddle in Derry but this shows that is not going to remain that way. It will not be far off when Sinn Fein become the dominant party in the city,” she said.
The newly returned Sinn Fein MLA also said topping the poll is not a target for her party. “We don’t go for poll topping. Ego does not come into it. It is not our strategy to come in over quota,” she said.
The first preference votes were as follows - Martina Anderson 6,950, Pol Callaghan 2,624, Terry Doherty 60, Mark H Durkan 4,970, Colum Eastwood 2,967, Paul Fleming 2,612, William Hay 7,154, Eamonn McCann 3,120, Raymond McCartney 3,638, Paul McFadden 1,280, Keith McGrellis 334, Pat Ramsey 3,138.