VIOLENCE around some of the street protests over the decision to limit the flying of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall must stop now if the just cause of Ulster loyalism is to avoid being dragged into the mire.
A small minority of irresponsible and electorally unrepresentative people are involved in the violence and militant agitation, but the very negative image this presents of Northern Ireland has a detrimental effect on our economy, tourism and status as an integral part of the UK.
Peaceful protest on any issue of concern is a fundamental right in a democracy.
For six weeks, the world at large has been made aware of legitimate unionist/loyalist grievances over what is perceived as a dimunition of our Britishness.
However, those who have rioted and wrought havoc on the streets have sullied this cause.
First Minister Peter Robinson rightly maintains the political process is the only way forward, and is heading up a newly-formed Unionist Forum with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt.
Work is under way in engaging with grassroots working-class loyalist communities over their concerns and this initiative must be given a breathing space from street protests, to allow for meaningful dialogue that could result in a political resolution.
Belfast traders have faced enormous difficulties since protests began and the city council and relevant Stormont departments must support businesses through what has been an unprecedented period of economic uncertainty.
No self-respecting loyalists can defend wrecking their own areas, attacking the police and making life a misery for their neighbours.
Regrettably, that is what has happened in some areas over recent days and it should not be tolerated or excused by anyone bearing the name Protestant or unionist.
Political dialogue is the only way forward.