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McDonald apologises for - and defends - marching behind 'England Get Out Of Ireland' banner

McDonald received backlash after Sinn Féin shared images online of her standing behind the banner.

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has apologised over – and has defended - marching behind a banner reading ‘England Get Out Of Ireland’ at the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York. 

The banner, or a variation of it, has been the only political banner allowed in the parade for decades.

McDonald received considerable backlash after Sinn Féin shared images online of the party leader standing behind the banner. 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney tweeted that the gesture was “offensive, divisive and an embarrassment”. 

The DUP also took offence to the image, saying it sums up Sinn Féin’s “attitude to explanations, truth and respect”.

Following the controversy, a Sunday Business Post opinion poll published over the weekend showed support for Sinn Féin dropped by five points to 13%, down from 18% in February. 

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime yesterday evening, McDonald said: “In respect of St Patrick’s Day, I think it sparked conversation around that banner which has been up and down Fifth Avenue for generations. 

 It’s a very direct political statement, it’s an anti-partition statement. 

McDonald said the banner is a “very blunt statement at any time”. 

“I suppose 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,” McDonald said. 

When asked whether she was “inching towards an apology”, McDonald replied “I don’t have to inch towards anything”.

“For anybody who felt that that was directed at English people I just want to reassure them that’s not the case,” McDonald said. 

“Indeed, I have blood relatives myself who are English and English people are very welcome in Ireland, many of them live amongst us, they’re our neighbours and our friends,” she said.

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. 

McDonald did, however, stand behind the sentiment of the banner. 

“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 across Ireland,” she said. 

In fact, far from apologising for it, I wear that political position as a badge of honour. 

The party has recently stepped up calls for a border poll as Brexit negotiations continue, noting the negative impacts Britain leaving the European Union could have in Northern Ireland.

Opinion polls have shown that the majority of people in the Republic want a border poll in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and that six in 10 people want to see a united Ireland in their lifetime.

However, others fear holding a poll in the near future would only intensify divisions in Northern Ireland, which has been without a devolved government since January 2017.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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