One of Ireland's most popular political websites has been sabotaged by computer hackers. The administrator of Slugger O'Toole said he hoped to have the posting board website up and running again within days.
Mick Fealty admitted the problem was serious, but said Slugger would return, on a more secure server but ostensibly unchanged, within days.
"I'm fairly hacked off about it," Mr Fealty said.
"It has come at a very inconvenient time. We were in the process of canvassing readers for the seven (European) candidates but that's pretty much stuffed now."
Since Tuesday, the website's 3,000 regular contributors have been faced with a single message 'State schools can fuel tensions' repeated thousands of times over.
"We have had problems before but we have always been able to sort them out with an off-the-shelf solution. It looks now like we will have to find a new server," Mr Fealty said.
"It may be down for a few days but we hope not longer than that," he said.
Mr Fealty said he did not believe the offending hackers wanted to attack the website but instead wanted to conquer the advanced software on which Slugger is built.
"Hackers will normally go after the leading player," he said.
"I doubt very much they were going after Slugger. It is more likely they were going after the particular kind of software."
He said the moveable type software used for the site would have represented a challenge for hackers, and that the problems they had caused were "quite serious".
However, when asked whether he thought it likely that the hackers were attempting to shut Slugger down, he said: "I can't rule that out, but there would be specific knowledge required to break in. Maybe someone left a back door open, I don't know."
Slugger O'Toole (named after a character in The Irish Rover "There was Slugger O'Toole, who was drunk as a rule") was set up in June 2002 and has become arguably the most popular political website in Northern Ireland.
Politicians, including Eoin O'Broin and Duncan Shipley-Dalton, post on the website, while many others are believed to post under nom de plumes. "I believe it is used by a lot of the back-room boys to bat ideas back and forth," Mr Fealty said.
"There isn't a lot of offline conversation going on at the moment so Slugger fulfils the role of giving people an opportunity to listen.
"The average time our readers stay on for is 10 minutes per day. Some people stay on all day. Five minutes would be considered very high for most commercial sites," he said.