the results of the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly show big gains for Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.

The DUP tried to overturn the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.

The regulations came into force in the province in January.

Sinn Fein, who support gay rights, has also gained seats in the elections, which should see a return to devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Voters went to the polls on Wednesday, and today is the second day of counting.

The ‘traditional’ Unionist Party, the UUP, has lost 9 seats, while the DUP has gained six and Sinn Fein four.

With all 108 seats declared, The DUP has 36, Sinn Fein 28, the SDLP has 16 and the Ulster Unionist Party has 18.

The Assembly has been suspended since October 2002, and the British and Irish governments are hopeful that these elections will provide a mandate to the DUP and Sinn Fein to form an executive and jointly take control of Northern Irish affairs.

“Restoration of the devolved institutions represents an opportunity of historic proportions,” Tony Blair and Irish premier Bertie Ahern said today in a joint statement.

Since 2002 Northern Ireland has been subject to direct rule from London. Secretary of State Peter Hain imposed the Sexual Orientation Regulations on the province before the assembly was restored.

In January disgruntled DUP politicians attempted to block the regulations in Northern Ireland in the House of Lords. Lord Morrow’s motion was heavily defeated by peers.

A vote in the ‘shadow’ Assembly last December over the regulations, forced by the DUP, resulted in a 39-39 split.

Sinn Fein managed to get a tie by using a law which allows a party to use the vote of a deceased Assembly member if he or she has not been replaced.

The losses in the Assembly election to Sinn Fein and the DUP are bad news for the more moderate SDLP and UUP.

It is also an indication that Northern Ireland remains a province of two tribes.

The only truly non-sectarian party, the Alliance, has so far gained seven seats.

Among the winners for the Alliance party is Anna Lo, who was elected to represent South Belfast.

She is the first ever candidate from an ethnic minority to be elected in Northern Ireland.

Ms Lo is the chief executive of the Chinese Welfare Association.

The Progressive Unionist Party has retained the seat held by their former leader, the late David Ervine.

The Green Party won their first seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Brian Wilson was elected to represent the North Down constituency on the 10th count.

“It is tremendously rewarding that the Greens will now be a permanent fixture in the political landscape of Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC.