By By Gráinne Ní Aodha and Rebecca Black
Outgoing Stormont infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has lost her seat in North Belfast amid an Alliance surge.
The SDLP deputy leader stayed in the race until the final stage of the count on Saturday evening, when former lord mayor Nuala McAllister (Alliance) became the fifth and final MLA elected in the constituency.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Chuilin were both elected on the first count on Friday.
However, the remaining candidates faced an agonising wait across two days for the remaining three seats on Stormont’s benches for the constituency to be filled.
DUP candidate Philip Brett was elected at the 10th count and his party colleague Brian Kingston took the fourth seat at the following stage of the count.
Throughout the count, Ms McAllister remained several hundred votes ahead of Ms Mallon, with the gap narrowing slightly as the count went on.
However, at the 11th stage, Ms Mallon was eliminated, and Ms Allister was elected.
Tributes were paid to Ms Mallon’s work during acceptance speeches.
Mr Kelly described politics as “brutal” and thanked Ms Mallon for her work.
He said his party offered a positive message.
“This is a democratic vote as it has been in every other constituency and all that I would ask is that those who were elected after that democratic vote is that we do get in, we do set up the Executive and that we move ahead for the people who elected us to do that very job,” he said.
“We are certainly ready to start on Monday.”
Mr Brett dedicated his win to his late father, who he described as epitomising what he wanted to do in working for all the people of North Belfast.
He also dedicated it to his late brother, who was killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 2001, who he said represented what he wanted to deliver in North Belfast.
He also commiserated with those who were not elected, saying it takes “guts and bravery to put yourself before the people”.
Ms McAllister described an “undoubtedly great day for Alliance”.
She said she was so proud “after many elections” to be elected as an MLA.
She also said she wanted to pay tribute to all of the work that Ms Mallon did, adding: “I know we haven’t seen the end of Nichola Mallon”, to applause.