Editor's Viewpoint: Respect has to be mutual, Mary Lou
St Patrick, as the patron saint of Ireland, is a figure common to both traditions on this island. That makes the crass gesture by Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald of marching behind a banner reading 'England get out of Ireland' during the annual parade in New York all the more offensive.
As an experienced politician she must realise that to the unionist community, those words mean they are unwelcome in what they see as their own country.
Imagine the outrage if any group was to march in England calling on all Irish to leave that country.
But then Mary Lou is prone to gaffes. Last year she said she didn't want a border poll while the distraction of Brexit was ongoing and then, the next day, backtracked to say she wanted one as soon as possible. And recently she said she didn't believe there was anyone in the PSNI senior team capable of taking on the job of Chief Constable when George Hamilton leaves the post later this year.
She has the appearance of someone trying to prove she has tough republican credentials when in reality she just causes further division in an already divided society. No one denies republicans' aspiration for an united Ireland but it needs to be pursued with tact and diplomacy.
Just as the best way to preserve the Union is by convincing nationalists they have an equal and positive role to play in Northern Ireland, so promotion of an united Ireland demands assuring unionists their contribution to a new Ireland will be assured and welcomed.
Instead, Sinn Fein under Mary Lou, who it was hoped would consign some of its more hardline views to history, is still seen as a party that demands respect and parity for itself but does little to reciprocate towards the unionist community.
Banners like the one Mary Lou posed behind are a commentary from the darkest days of the Troubles. The Good Friday Agreement was supposed to herald the building of a new Northern Ireland, where diversity was respected and every effort made to create consensus. Instead, today we have the most toxic political atmosphere in decades and pointless gesture politics such as happened in New York have replaced any attempts at leadership.
Mary Lou's actions and Sinn Fein's puerile comments on them show a lack of imagination and have rightly been condemned across the political spectrum.