Last week, the Government proscribed the largest of those paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defence Association. But the ban applies only in Northern Ireland, prompting fears that it can be side-stepped by relocating UDA business to Scotland and that Scotland's importance for UDA fund-raising will now increase.
In the predominantly Protestant working-class clubs and pubs of Glasgow, open talk of the UDA is not routine gossip. But there are clues.
In Glasgow's east end, where the city's new image has often just meant cosmetic improvements to tenements, there are usually old pubs which look as if the demolition crew overlooked them, stranded in a desert of development. They are designated Orange pubs or Rangers bars. Even on days when there is no match, club scarves or jerseys are worn with pride. Strangers, especially Roman Catholic strangers, are not welcome. Graffiti question the Pope's virility; the initials 'FTP' (the T and P stand for 'the Pope') are much in evidence.
In one pub a drinker related: 'Not long ago we had a few boys in here who put U2's 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday' on the juke box.' The record, a tribute to the Catholics shot by soldiers in one of the most famous incidents of Ulster's troubles, was halted as a pint glass slammed into the machine.
One of six men at the bar who chose the song complained. 'What's happened to my record?' In the mass fight that followed the person who had put his money in the machine was stabbed in the face and chest. Others were slashed with broken beer glasses.
But does the problem run any deeper than faction fighting in bars? Professor Steven Bruce, now at Aberdeen University, but formerly of Queen's University, Belfast, has just completed a study of Ulster's loyalist paramilitaries, The Red Hand, to be published this month.
Professor Bruce doubts the importance of Scotland to the UDA. 'In terms of fund-raising, I estimate it is responsible for only 2 per cent of the UDA's income.' In his book he estimates the Scottish figure as pounds 100,000 a year.
He also dismisses the importance of Scotland as a source of arms or in organising supplies to the paramilitaries. 'An example is the trial of Scottish UDA members in Perth, who were found to be making their own bullets.' But Professor Bruce says that, at the time the UDA had no problems getting real bullets so there was no need to bother with DIY ones.
For Professor Bruce, Scotland's importance to the loyalists lies not in raising funds, or as a potential safe haven, but in the moral support it can give the cause. 'It is a boost for the paramilitary groups to know that the loyalist cause has some support outside Northern Ireland.'
The Scots, he says, get an especially warm welcome on the July Orange marches because they are a signal that Ulster Protestants are not entirely without friends.
David Bryce, Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge of Scotland, leader of 80,000 Scottish Orangemen and women, disagrees. He has tried to dissociate his organisation from the paramilitaries.
'In Scotland there are people who exist who totally support all the loyalist paramilitary groups and all of what they do,' he said. 'In their hearts and minds they support all the killings, the bombings, the extortion. Plenty of people here will pay pounds 1 towards the organisations like the Loyalist Prisoners Association (the UDA's welfare group) knowing full well what it will help to finance.'
However, those who openly claim association with the UDA or the Ulster Volunteer Force 'are likely to be Walter Mittys', he said.
'But the other serious individuals do exist. They may be in other bodies, even in the Orange Order, or football supporters' clubs. But not in cells - that would make it too easy to identify them.'
Although the police can claim success in keeping sectarian violence in Scotland under some control, Mr Bryce believes only 'foot soldiers' have ever been caught. 'Going back to the early 1970s, those who encourage and organise paramilitary groups in Scotland are still there going about their business.'
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