The leader of Sinn Féin has apologised for marching behind an "England Get Out of Ireland" banner on St Patrick's Day.

Mary Lou McDonald moved to reassure the public that its message was not directed at English people.

"For anybody who felt that it was directed at English people, I just want to reassure them that that's not the case," she said.

The Dublin Central TD was condemned for helping carry the sign last month in New York City's annual parade to mark the national holiday.

Her actions were described as offensive and divisive by Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

An opinion poll published by the Sunday Business Post over the weekend showed support for Sinn Féin had dropped by five points to 13%. The figure was 18% in February.

Ms McDonald said: "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.

"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."

She described the slogan as a "fairly blunt statement at any time".

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 she said: "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."

Asked whether she was inching towards an apology, she replied: "I don't have to inch towards anything... 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."

On the political sentiment behind the banner, Ms McDonald said she would not apologise for being "a united Irelander" and for wanting unity and democracy across Ireland.

"Far from apologising for it, I wear that political position as a badge of honour," she said.

The Democratic Unionist Party said Ms McDonald's apology was motivated by poll ratings rather than remorse.

East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons said: "Mary Lou McDonald's apology is a cynical response to falling poll ratings rather than any acknowledgement of remorse.

"It is testament to Sinn Féin's place on the sidelines of politics that gaffes by their new president have been their most significant contribution to politics in recent months.

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

Mr Lyons said if the party's leadership was truly focused on repairing the damage it would commit to working with all other parties to restore the Stormont Assembly.