Striking a balance: The Northern Ireland peace process
Publication date: 
Accord issue: 

Clem McCartney reviews the development, role and achievements of civil society in Northern Ireland during the conflict, from the flowering of local community activity promoted by the Community Relations Commission in the 1970s to the establishment of the Civic Forum after the Belfast Agreement.

He suggests that although there was limited interaction between the more conciliatory sections of civil society and the political process, the overlaps between community activism and paramilitary politics contributed to some of the innovative thinking that came from sectarian parties.

Politicians tended to dismiss activists in civil society as naive or unwilling to get involved in the messy compromises of real politics. 

Clem McCartney

As the peace process gained momentum, civil society found news ways to influence developments. Looking back, many of those who endured the years of conflict have been energised and become more aware of the nature of their society and the roles they can play in making it function more effectively.