It is a sad that in the week when the US Secretary of State visits Northern Ireland, this province is in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
The good news should be about Hillary Clinton coming here, but regrettably, the headlines are also about violence, street demonstrations and death threats.
Unwisely the Belfast city councillors pressed ahead last Monday with a predictably divisive vote on flying the Union flag at the City Hall, and the sheer hatred in the resultant demonstrations is disturbing.
This current mess has not escaped the keen scrutiny of such a shrewd politician as Hillary Clinton. She rightly condemned the recent attacks on political figures and property and noted realistically that the peace work is not yet completed. She underlined that violence is never an acceptable response, and hopefully our local politicians at every level will take to heart her advice that all parties need to confront the remaining challenges of sectarian division, and to do this peacefully together.
The US Secretary of State is not only an important international figure but also someone with a significant track record in helping to broker peace here.
She and her husband, then President Bill Clinton, worked hard to bring both sides together at all levels during the tortuous prelude to the Good Friday Agreement, and they have both kept closely in touch with developments here on the ground. Mrs Clinton was right to urge people to take the peace initiatives from the polite gatherings in ballrooms and other places where it has backing, and down to the people at the grass roots who are not feeling part of this process. It is a tall order for all, and Hillary Clinton's offer to be a continuing advocate and cheer leader for peace here is one of the best presents the people of Northern Ireland will receive this Christmas.
She is a powerful politician whose heart is in the right place and whose commitment to peace here is total. We are fortunate to have her as a good friend.