Ulster vote reveals tensions over peace deal

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Sinn Fein topped the poll for the first time in a European election to take one of three seats in Northern Ireland.

But a nervous tremor passed through parties subscribing to the peace process when a hardline unionist, Jim Allister, polled better than had been expected although not enough to win a seat.

His success suggests that Protestant opposition to the powersharing settlement is stronger than thought and may increase strains over the powersharing deal between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists.

Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun held her European seat and was elected on the first count with 126,000 votes. Her solid showing contrasted with her party's performance in the Irish Republic, where it made no significant advances.

Jim Nicholson, the Ulster Unionist who has been a Euro MP for more than 20 years, was re-elected with the support of the British Conservative Party to which his party is now linked.

For the Democratic Unionists, Diane Dodds took 88,000 first-preference votes, enough to take a seat, but in third place and a far cry from the days when her former party leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, regularly topped the polls.