I had the privilege recently of being a guest of Gregory S Burton, the US Consul General, at a celebration to mark the 238th anniversary of the signing of the US Declaration of Independence.
The Consul General spoke about the many ties, cultural, military and other, which have strongly bound Northern Ireland and the United States of America for many gen- erations.
What struck me on the day was the respect shown to the American flag, which flew proudly above us at the Consul General's residence at Ardnavalley House.
What was even more impressive was the respect and dignity shown to an older US flag, which was being transported for repair to the US Embassy in London by US Marine Corps attache Lieutenant Colonel Tiley Nunnink.
The theme for the celebrations was the Second World War and the message was clear – by honouring their national flag, they were also honouring those who have served so bravely under it.
I long for the day when all in the United Kingdom treat the Union flag with the respect and dignity it deserves and honour those brave servicemen and women who, for generations, have served in Her Majesty's armed forces.
We have just commemorated Armed Forces Day and the 98th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, paying tribute to our valiant servicemen and women – and I include in that number members of my own family, whose service and sacrifice must never be forgotten.
As we look with confidence to what the future holds for the Northern Ireland of today, we must remember with pride those whose selfless devotion to duty delivered the peace we have so long desired.
And, just as the representatives of the US government honour their national flag in Northern Ireland, they must equally recognise what the Union flag means to all who proudly cherish our British values, identity and traditions.