The Derry-based Sinn Féin Assembly member Martina Anderson has apologised for comments she made yesterday about a proposed pension scheme for victims of the Troubles.

In a tweet that was later deleted, the former MEP said that the pensions were mainly for those who fought Britain's "dirty war" in Ireland and mainly for those involved in collusion.

She had been widely criticised for the comments, which drew calls from a range of political opponents for her to resign.

However, in a statement this morning she apologised for the hurt caused by her "clumsy" comments.

Ms Anderson said: "I apologise unreservedly for the hurt and offence caused by my tweet to people who suffered serious harm during the conflict here. 

"My comments were clumsy, were not directed at them and it was never my intention to cause them any hurt. 

"All victims of the conflict deserve acknowledgement of their pain and loss and I support them in their efforts to get their pension."

Senior sources in Sinn Féin say the party leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill told Ms Anderson to delete her tweet.

It is understood Ms O'Neill phoned her colleague yesterday evening as the remarks were attracting criticism.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has said she spoke to Ms Anderson about the comments.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, she said she knows it was not Ms Anderson's intention to cause the hurt that she did and it was quite right that she apologised.

Earlier this year, the British government introduced legislation in Westminster proposing to give a pension of between £1,000 and £10,000 to those injured in the Troubles.

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Sinn Féin opposed what it said were unfair elements of the plans. It was blocking moves to designate a Stormont department to administer the scheme. 

The party was coming under pressure for its stance and with a judgment due in a legal challenge, Ms O'Neill last week confirmed a shift in its policy.

However, Ms Anderson yesterday posted a tweet criticising the pensions.

She said: "All victims should qualify for the pension. It reflects the Brit Gov policy & only its narrative of the conflict.

"It's given legal protection to Brit armed forces who killed or injured or tortured Irish citizens during the conflict.

"NO to Discrimination Criminalisation Exclusion."

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the comments were insulting and called on the Sinn Féin leadership to apologise.

He said: "The comments made by Martina Anderson this evening are unacceptable, disgusting and grossly insulting to hundreds of victims who sustained life-changing physical and psychological injuries related to Troubles incidents."

Doug Beattie of the Ulster Unionist Party said the tweet showed an appalling lack of humanity.

"Sinn Féin is clearly so committed to justifying the murderous criminality of the IRA which murdered and injured so many innocent people, that it is prepared to continue to slur its victims," he said.

"They are without shame and demonstrate an appalling lack of humanity."

The Derry-based DUP Assembly member Gary Middleton called on the Sinn Féin leadership to sanction Ms Anderson.

"People who have lived most of their lives with shrapnel from an explosion in their body or who are haunted with the smell, taste and noise of a bombing should not be labelled by Martina Anderson," he said.

The tweet was deleted yesterday evening. On Twitter, Ms O'Neill said she remained committed to delivering a victims payment scheme.

There has been political disagreement over whether anyone convicted of inflicting serious harm during the Troubles should qualify for payments, and over who should fund the scheme.

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said the payments to the most badly hurt could cost £800m.

Last week, Ms O'Neill was highly criticised by the High Court in Belfast for refusing to comply with a legislative requirement to set up the scheme to gain political leverage over the UK government.

The joint legal challenge against the delay was brought by Jennifer McNern, who lost both legs in a bombing in 1972, and Brian Turley, one of the "Hooded Men" who were arrested and interrogated by the British Army in 1971.

The scheme was due to open for applications at the end of May, but little progress has been made due to a failure by the Executive Office, which is shared by Ms O'Neill and First Minister Arlene Foster, to nominate a Stormont department to take responsibility for it.

Additional reporting PA