Ciaran Barnes in Daily Ireland has an entirely plausible piece that speculates that if the SDLP experiences meltdown in these elections, they may find themselves supplanted by another party: namely Fianna Fail!
He has an unnamed source inside FF, who suggests:
Some people believe that the SDLP will link up with Fianna Fáil as its sister party if they endure a drubbing at the hands of Sinn Féin this time round. But the reality is that the Fianna Fáil leadership feels it has nothing to gain from being associated with a failed political party. It would do much better standing in elections under its own steam, and that would give the lie to Sinn Féin claims that it is the only truly national party in the country. Sinn Féin is predicting that it will be the first party in government North and South but Fianna Fáil could beat them to it if it organised in the North.
The source goes on:
But if they go down, we won’t be wasting our time with fancy coalitions when what’s really needed is for Fianna Fáil to organise itself in the North. Anyone in the SDLP who wants to join our ranks will be made most welcome.
Fascinating stuff. This election could see a realigment of both Nationalism and Unionism. In the case of the former, it doesn’t look like merger or takeover, but the beginning of a new initiative from what many regard as the natural party of government in the Republic. However, realistically it may be another one or two election cycles before they are challenging Sinn Fein supremacy north of the border. It’s also likely to be that long before SF challenge for a place in a Dublin cabinet.
And of course, the SDLP could still surprise us all yet!