SINN Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has responded to outrage over her appearance at the New York City St Patrick's Day Parade with a banner reading "England, get out of Ireland".
The Irish republican party posted an image on social media of McDonald, 49, walking behind the sign with the caption: "No explanation needed."
Tánaiste Simon Coveney was among the most high profile critics of the "divisive" gesture, tweeting: "@MaryLouMcDonald this is NOT leadership – it's offensive, divisive and an embarrassment.
"Grow up, this is NOT #ireland in 2019! We are better than this!"
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) 17 March 2019
Unionist politicians also condemned McDonald over the banner.
The former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alliance Party councillor Nuala McAllister, called on Sinn Féin to apologise.
"Leaving aside the irony of St Patrick being a Briton, this sort of anti-English, anti-British sentiment is just as repulsive as anti-Irish, anti-immigrant prejudiced views – they are two sides of the same coin," Cllr McAllister said in a statement.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said the banner was "highly offensive", adding: "Once again, Mary Lou McDonald as president of Sinn Féin has shown them up for what they are really all about.
"Their unionist engagement has fallen flat on its face because they just can’t help themselves.
"It demonstrates that bigotry and hypocrisy are alive and well within their version of republicanism. Sinn Féin is a narrow-minded party still guided by the shadowy figures from our dark past."
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) 16 March 2019
Sinn Féin has fired back at critics and claimed it should be no surprise that the party is campaigning for a united Ireland.
In a statement, a Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "It should come as no surprise that Sinn Féin wants a new United Ireland under the provisions of Good Friday Agreement.
"The faux outrage of some of our political opponents owes more to the silly season of a holiday weekend and petty political point-scoring.
"If Simon Coveney and the government is serious about achieving a new and agreed United Ireland, then he should immediately convene an all-Ireland forum on Irish unity."
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Féin councillor Deirdre Hargey, also defended the banner.
She told the BBC: "It's no surprise that republicans feel that the future of Ireland should rest with the people who live in Ireland.
"Partition happened here almost 100 years ago. That was the role of England, little England attitudes, and the Westminster Government.
"That's what the banner signifies in my view, in terms of that issue of partition."
Sinn Féin mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey defends decision by Mary Lou McDonald to stand behind a St Patrick's Day banner with the words "England get out of Ireland". pic.twitter.com/JqpVEjVEZV
— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) 17 March 2019
However, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said Sinn Féin's attitude to truth and respect was summed up by the caption they used on social media, "No explanation needed".
He said: "When slogans such as ‘Brits out’ or ‘England out of Ireland’ are used the Unionist community are well within their rights to see themselves as the intended focus.
"The ‘British presence in Ireland’ is the Unionist population in Northern Ireland."
Patricia MacBride, the former Commissioner for Victims and Survivors (CVSNI) of the Troubles, told BBC NI's Sunday Politics programme that she understood the sign gained prominence in New York in the early 1980s.
"I think it was very much of its time and needs to be consigned to history at this point in time and moving forward," she said.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill and hundreds of police officers were joined by huge crowds at the annual march up Fifth Ave in Manhattan on Saturday.
Dating to 1762, the New York City St Patrick's Day Parade is the world's largest celebration of the Irish cultural festival.