Northern Ireland looks set for a dramatic series of European election results as official figures confirmed a major drop in voter turnout.

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Only 42.8% of people eligible to vote cast a ballot, down significantly from the figure of 51.72% turnout at the last European election.

Vote counting will not begin until Monday, but early unofficial tallies suggest the Democratic Unionist Party has suffered a major hit.

Sinn Féin is now tipped to emerge as the largest party for the first time in any Northern Ireland election.

The results show unionist areas have registered lower turnouts than voting districts that are predominantly nationalist.

There had been speculation that public anger over the revelations surrounding MPs' expenses and the wages accumulated by double-jobbing politicians might lead to some voters staying at home.

Politicians repeatedly reported hearing the issue raised on the doorsteps.

The DUP also faces a threat from the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, which is opposed to power-sharing with republicans.

TUV candidate and party leader Jim Allister, a former DUP member, appears to have captured a substantial share of disaffected unionist voters.

The projections being made for the final results for political parties follow the release of official figures for the turnout in Northern Ireland's 18 constituent areas.

They revealed turnouts of:
:: Belfast East 38.82%
:: Belfast North 40.98%
:: Belfast South 42.1%
:: Belfast West 46.6%
:: Lagan Valley 38.86%
:: South Down 44.97%
:: Mid Ulster 52.83%
:: North Antrim 43.7%
:: East Antrim 34.53%
:: North Down 34.48%
:: South Antrim 38.03%
:: Strangford 34.24%.
:: East Londonderry 42.3%
:: Foyle 44.4%
:: Fermanagh/South Tyrone 51.52%
:: West Tyrone 50.3%
:: Upper Bann 41.81%
:: North Antrim 49.1%

The total poll was 488,891 of the electorate of 1,141,979.