Belfast Telegraph

McDonald apologises for posing with 'England get out of Ireland' banner - DUP say apology 'motivated by poll ratings'

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald behind the banner in New York on St Patrick’s Day
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald behind the banner in New York on St Patrick’s Day

By Laura Larkin

Sinn Fein 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 Fein president draw staunch criticism from political leaders.

Tanaiste 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 on Monday, 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."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Brian Lawless/PA)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Brian Lawless/PA)

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 RTE's Drivetime.

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

East Antrim DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said that the Sinn Fein leaders apology had been "motivated by poll ratings rather than remorse".

"Mary Lou McDonald’s apology is a cynical response to falling poll ratings rather than any acknowledgement of remorse," he said.

"It is clear however that a drop in support has pressed those who take the decisions within Sinn Fein to stop defending the banner and belatedly send Mary Lou McDonald out to issue this supposed apology.

"If the Sinn Fein leadership was truly focused on repairing the damage then they would commit to working with all the other parties, restore the Assembly and get back to work immediately.”

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