SF's Mary Lou McDonald apologises for posing with 'England get out of Ireland' 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.
Tanáiste 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 this past weekend showed a drop of five points in support for the party to 13pc.
In February that poll showed the party at 18pc.
Speaking today, Ms McDonald said that the poll result shows the party has to continue its work.
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" and went on to say:
"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 it 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. It certainly doesn't mean that."
However, she said she stands behind the anti-partition sentiment expressed by the banner.
"But as to the political sentiment behind the banner in terms of ending partition, now in particular as we face into the chaos of Brexit, decided upon in London, in England by politicians and political forces there, I cannot apologise for being a united Irelander and for wanting unity and democracy for Ireland," she told RTÉ's Drivetime.
"In fact far from apologising for it I wear that political position as a badge of honour."