Where is it all going to end?

Well, the news flows are buzzing and they all seem to scent political blood – namely that of Sinn Fein. We’re not sure the animal is quite badly wounded as the majority seems to think. Mairtin O’Muilleoir on Morning Ireland this morning was convinced that Sinn Fein and the IRA were made of stronger stuff (sound file).

No doubt that’s true in the heartland, and amongst the core of workers that have driven the party forward with a work ethic that would put the average protestant to shame. But everywhere else that support is being shaken rather than stirred. The movement would have find a very powerful silver bullet capable of putting several rather nasty genies back in their bottles.

Fear of some kind of return to a violent offensive is uppermost in many minds. In the last 24 hours, Slugger has spoken to three people from very different political backgrounds who accept there will be no return to war as such, but still fear the IRA will find some way to punish what it considers its illtreatment in the press and media.

At this point nothing major is expected before the election results. Before the controversy, Sinn Fein was expected to walk home. Now things are a little more difficult to call. Eddie McGrady’s workers feel their man has a hard task against Catriona Ruane, but will now probably keep his South Down seat.

In Derry, Mark Durkan may now be in a position to start hooking back those Hume nationalists who had been contemplating the Sinn Fein Chair Mitchel McLaughlin as a natural successor to their local hero. It is doubtful whether his performance on Questions and Answers will have damaged him anywhere near as much as the current impression of his party as unwilling to deliver the original Hume deal.

A interesting fight may be on the cards in South Belfast. If Alex Maskey (who worked hard in his year as Lord Mayor of Belfast to break down barriers with unionists) runs he may find himself dogged by a series of questions over his stance on the rioting in the Markets in the immediate aftermath of the McCartney killing. McDonnell will not pull his punches.

For now, Adams and McGuinness look safe. Conor Murphy (who SDLPers claim has gone to ground since this crisis began) also looks too far ahead at this stage to be caught, as does Pat Doherty in West Tyrone. Michelle Gildernew’s fate probably lies with whether the Unionist party can make up and mend fences rather than on the strength of a resurgent SDLP.

For now, there is no telling what lies in wait for the Republican movement around the corner. Two months ago the SDLP looked as if it might be swept clean from the House of Commons altogether. It seems to be slowly clawing its way back into political life.

If things remain as they are, then Sinn Fein will be thankful to have ridden out yet another political storm. But if this atrocious PR continues, it would be a foolish punter who would bet against another one or two of those seats moving from solid to vulnerable.

And if there is some kind of political upset, all attention will inevitably turn to the reaction of the IRA!