Nevertheless, peace groups still found it difficult to mobilise public support for their calls to end violence, even when political movement became evident. Most support for peace rallies occurred in late 1993, before the paramilitary ceasefires in 1994 and after the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire in 1996, but not during the negotiations when they might have provided encouragement for the risk-taking politicians. It seems that those in favour of an end to violence were worried that public action might make the situation worse and only got involved when the situation looked very bad.
It is noteworthy that the electoral process for selecting the representatives to take part in the negotiations provided an easy opportunity for new groups from civil society to be elected and yet very few civil society groups were formed. Well over ninety per cent of the electorate voted for the existing parties and only one new group, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, was successful. It was able to make a significant alternative input into the negotiations, though it only had one per cent of the popular vote.
Towards the end of the negotiations small groups of pro-Agreement activists had begun to engage in a new type of action. Throughout the Troubles opponents of accommodation have made their views known by assembling outside buildings where significant political meetings where taking place. Now those who supported political cooperation and accommodation also began to appear. Their presence reinforced the realisation that there was support for inclusive politics. This message was perhaps most important for those opposed to the peace process.
Once the Belfast Agreement had been achieved, it had to be ratified by a referendum, and this presented another opportunity for civil society to make its voice heard. The anti-agreement ‘No’ campaign was more vociferous and the pro-Agreement political parties were rather half hearted in their campaigning. A civil society ‘Yes’ Campaign was quickly organised with members of Initiative ‘92 at its core, and they attempted to create a popular campaign involving local celebrities. The will for a settlement did exist and had some influence over politicians.