Posted by Niall O'Dowd at 6/6/2009 5:40 AM EDT

Though the counting of the European Parliament elections will not begin until Monday in Northern Ireland the sensational result is already evident.

Sinn Fein will end up with the largest vote of any party in the North according to exit polls and an unofficial tally of votes when the boxes were opened and the votes sorted in anticipation of Monday's count.

Sinn Fein will end up with a far higher total of votes than either of the Ulster Unionist parties for the first time in history, as well as polling far better than their nationalist rivals the SDLP.

This extraordinary result came about because unionists in this election voted in far fewer numbers than nationalists. The overall poll was only about 42 per cent of eligible voters but Unionist turnout was estimated at only 34 per cent in early projections.

The other reality is that the DUP party of Peter Robinson polled very poorly because of a dissident vote that went to Jim Alistair, a sitting European MP who left the DUP party because of their decision to enter government with Sinn Fein.

The DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party will end up battling for the two seats left after Barbra de Brun of Sinn Fein is elected. Some insiders are saying that Alistair could pull off a sensational result by taking one of the two seats and that the SDLP may even be in the running if the votes break the right way.

The result is an incredible boost for Sinn Fein and their peace process strategy. During the IRA campaign the party usually registered at about two per cent in the popularity meter. Now they have pulled off a major coup in heading the poll.

Though the combined votes are not yet counted the result may also be the first time that the nationalist vote outpolls the unionist vote -- another sensational outcome if it happens.

Suddenly the Sinn Fein strategy for a united Ireland may not look so far fetched after all. If nationalists regularly begin outpolling unionists in Northern elections it will certainly put the issue on the front burner.

Gerry Adams will arrive in New York this week with a fair wind behind him after this result. He is here to push for a united Ireland strategy and this result will be an incredible boost.

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