McDonald says sorry to English people over banner
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has apologised for posing with a banner which read 'England get out of Ireland'.
At this year's St Patrick's Day parade in New York, the Dublin Central TD posed for a photograph with a banner emblazoned with the slogan in a move that saw the Sinn Féin president draw staunch criticism from political leaders.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the banner was "offensive, divisive and an embarrassment" and called on Ms McDonald to "grow up".
A public opinion poll published by the 'Sunday Business Post' at the weekend showed a drop of five points in support for the party to 13pc. In February, that poll showed the party at 18pc.
Speaking yesterday, Ms McDonald said that the poll result shows the party has to continue its work, but on the issue of the banner she moved to clarify the meaning behind it and apologised to people who felt its message was directed at English people.
"In respect of St Patrick's Day, I think it starts certainly a conversation around that banner which has been up and down Fifth Avenue for a generation," she said. "It's a very direct political statement, it's an anti-partition statement.
"I know it was taken by some to be directed at English people. It certainly was not and is not."
Pressed on the sensitivities of the current climate due to Brexit, Ms McDonald described the slogan as a "fairly blunt statement at any time".
She added: "All of us have to be conscious of not just what we say and what is meant but also what is heard and what is understood. For anybody who felt that was directed at English people, I just want to reassure them that that's not the case. Indeed, I have blood relatives myself who are English and English people are very welcome in Ireland.
"Many of them live amongst us, they are our neighbours and our friends so certainly I apologise to anybody who felt that the banner was intended in that way and I'm happy to clarify that it's not."
However, she said she stands behind the anti-partition sentiment expressed by the banner. "I cannot apologise for being a united Irelander and for wanting unity and democracy for Ireland," she told RTÉ's 'Drivetime'.