Sinn Fein has become the largest party in local government in Northern Ireland for the first time after making big gains in local elections.
Vice President Michelle O’Neill described her party’s victory as “significant” and said the result sent the message that Stormont should return.
However, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party had done well in the polls but acknowledged the trade union movement needed to learn lessons from the election.
The count of elections entered the third day and the last of 462 seats up for grabs in 11 councilors went to People Before Profit at Belfast City Hall just after midnight on Sunday.
At the end of the count, Sinn Féin emerged with 144 seats, up 39 from the last municipal election in 2019.
The Republican Party repeated its results in last year’s general election, when it rose to become the largest party in Stormont.
The DUP has strengthened its position as the dominant force in the trade union movement, winning 122 seats, the same number as in 2019.
The cross-community alliance party increased its representation on local councils, winning 67 seats, an increase of 14.
However, it was a disappointing election for the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, with both parties suffering significant losses.
The UUP ended up with 54 seats and the SDLP 39, while smaller parties and independents took the remaining 36 seats.
Sinn Féin will be the largest party in six local government districts, including Belfast, while the DUP will have the largest representation in five local councils.
Sinn Féin secured 30.9% of the first preference votes, ahead of the DUP with 23.3%, Alliance 13.3%, Ulster Unionists 10.9% and SDLP 8.7%.
Voter turnout was 54%.
It was the first electoral test for the parties since last year’s general election and came amid the deadlock at Stormont, with power-sharing institutions not acting as part of a DUP protest at post-Brexit trade deals.
Michelle O’Neill, chair of Sinn Féin in Stormont, described the results as “significant”.
She also said that the DUP’s boycott of the Stormont Assembly “cannot proceed”.
Ms O’Neill said: “It is now up to the UK and Irish Governments to come together and focus their efforts on the immediate restoration of Executive and Assembly power.”
“We are expecting a meeting of the UK-Ireland Intergovernmental Conference soon.
“The boycott of the assembly cannot continue and an executive must be formed.”
Sir Jeffrey said his party had increased its share of the vote compared to last year’s general election.
But he added: “I think, to be honest, there are lessons for the trade union movement in the broadest sense.”
“We have to do better.
“The DUP had good elections, but the unions have to do better, we have to win more seats.
“I look forward to sitting down with my union colleagues and examining these issues and how greater collaboration can lead to greater success for the union movement in general.”
UUP leader Doug Beattie said he was disappointed with the result but stressed he had no plans to leave office.
He said, “I made it very clear that the party elected me and I am the party leader, and I’m going absolutely nowhere.” It will be the party that one way or another decides my fate.
“People who are a little insecure because we made a bad choice can remain insecure because I’m on a rock solid foundation and I’m not going anywhere.”
SDLP chief Colum Eastwood said Sinn Féin “exploited” the nationalist vote.
“When we spoke to people, it became very clear that people are really upset with the DUP, that they want the executive branch to get back to work, and that they want to send a message,” he said.
“Sinn Fein asked them to send this message and they sent it.”
Local authorities in Northern Ireland are responsible for setting tariffs, planning and waste collection, as well as leisure services and parks.