A leader of a controversial American group accused of funding the Irish Republican Army terrorist organization made a dramatic public appearance in Northern Ireland on Friday, heightening tension in the strife-torn province and embarrassing law enforcement authorities who had spent days trying to prevent his entry into Ulster.
Martin Galvin, publicity director of the Irish Northern Aid Committee, often called NORAID, appeared in Londonderry at a mass funeral for Charles English, a 21-year-old IRA member killed earlier this week when a makeshift launcher containing a grenade he was trying to fire at a local police station exploded in his face.
Galvin's appearance, along with the presence in Ulster of about 130 other American representatives of NORAID, added to an already tense atmosphere in the province as it began to observe a series of anniversaries that traditionally bring an escalation of the sectarian violence.
Friday was the 14th anniversary of the British government's decision to arrest and hold without trial anyone suspected of terrorist activities. The policy was rescinded four years later, but the date is still marked by protests.
Protestants in Londonderry will march though the city today in a parade traditionally used as much to intimidate the local Roman Catholic community as it is to celebrate their forefathers' victory over the Roman Catholic King James II nearly 300 years ago.
It was rioting triggered by the same anniversary march 16 years ago that brought British Army troops onto the streets of Belfast and Londonderry to restore order.
Before Friday's funeral in Londonderry, police had clashed with youths in the city's main Catholic district, with bands of young residents showering heavily armored police vehicles with concrete blocks and makeshift incendiary bombs.
In Belfast, police fired 21 rounds of plastic bullets to disperse groups of rock-throwing youths who were trying to pull a man from a car. A home in the area was fire-bombed, but the occupants escaped without injury.
Late Friday, three incendiary bombs exploded on a Belfast-Dublin express train as it waited at Northern Ireland's border with the Republic of Ireland. There were no injuries reported although four cars were burned out.
As thousands of mourners gathered at the Londonderry funeral to accompany the coffin along its route to a nearby cemetery, Galvin appeared as one of the pallbearers and was filmed by a television crew in the area. After walking with the procession for about 10 minutes, he slipped into the crowd and disappeared.
The procession was surrounded by scores of police and British soldiers, but there was no attempt to arrest Galvin, apparently because of fears that his arrest might have touched off a major riot.
Police killed a 21-year old Catholic marcher last year in an abortive attempt to arrest Galvin after an appearance at a Belfast rally.
Galvin has been banned from Ulster since his speech in April, 1984, in which he applauded the terrorist killing of a British soldier.
Police and Protestant leaders in Ulster claim that much of the recent escalation in violence was brought about by the IRA's show of force for the NORAID delegation, touring Northern Ireland under the auspices of the IRA's legal political wing, the Sinn Fein.
NORAID claims its fund-raising activities are for humanitarian aid, but the British government contends that the funds are used mainly to finance IRA terrorist operations.