Edelman Ireland 2014 Trust Barometer

Another year, another launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Despite being around for approximately seventeen years now, the research never fails to spark interest and this year was no different. The 2014 findings were quite striking for me, primarily if you compare the results to previous years as they show that the great hope the Irish public had for change around the last general election has dissipated and levels of trust are around the same levels as 2011 (click the image for an enlarged view.)

Trust in Institutions

The other striking result is the clear lack in trust by the public in politicians and business leaders across a range of actions, highlighting an embedded skepticism in society (click the image for an enlarged view.)

Leadership - A crisis of trust

The launch event itself was quite stimulating with a thought provoking address from Dr Tom Clonan, who recounted his experience of serving in the Irish army in Lebanon, later as a whistleblower revealing the systematic sexual harassment of Irish women soldiers, and more recently his experience as a father of a disabled child.

Clonan’s account highlighted that we don’t do transparency well in Ireland and here is a clear need for reform across a variety of institutions in the country. He highlighted the lack of diversity in a range of areas in terms of political representation and media commentators. The same accusation could equally be made of the business world.

So where do we go from here? My colleague and Edelman Ireland chairman Jim Glennon summed it up best when he wrapped up the event with his comment – ‘You always learn a lot more from a defeat then you do from a victory.

We’ve essentially been through the wars in Ireland in terms of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The crisis at the Central Remedial Clinic is just the latest in a series of scandals that has rocked the public conscious.

We essentially need to create a culture of transparency in order to rebuild trust in institutions. Tom Cloonan only had to point out the commentary around the Garda whistleblowers who presented to the Public Accounts Committee last week which shows that we still do not have an environment where whistleblowers can feel comfortable to come forward. A lot of work obviously still needs to be done if we hope to achieve this.

While there is clearly a link between economic performance and levels of trust, the positive signs around the Irish economy should not mean that we forego the continual self-examination to ensure we have learned from the mistakes of the past and also make sure that we put a system of accountability in place. As one of the panelists at the event, Simon Harris TD, said at the launch, “We don’t need a return to blind trust, we need a society that always probes.

The spotlight on the Irish charity sector at the moment offers a unique insight in terms of the challenges and opportunities organisations in the space face. Clearly a lack of transparency on executive pay and poor governance by a handful of organisations has had a huge impact on the whole sector. As a result there is a requirement for executives involved in the running of charities to proactively communicate how they operate and demonstrate the results they are achieving.

There is also a requirement, however, for the public to also educate themselves better. Simon Harris made a good point about an exam he sat in school where he was asked what Mary Harney’s position in cabinet was at the time. Apart from having to know her title, there was no requirement for actually understanding what her role involved.

The danger of an unengaged public is that it sweeps through society. Dr Cloonan underlined this when he made a point about the lack of interrogation in the media about the era of austerity. Just as we didn’t question the fundamentals of the boom, we’re making the same mistakes again. One of the primary reasons for this is the lack of diversity in our political representation and in the media.

I’m reminded of an article on the New Statesman website about how the majority of media commentators are white men aged 50+ and the negative effect that has on discourse in society. I’ve highlighted a key quote from the piece below.

…for the time being the ancient kings still rule. The old make the news for the old, and politicians watch and obsess as if the images flickering across their screens are somehow relevant to the hopes, dreams and fears of the population they so dismally fail to represent.

The full research deck for the Edelman Ireland 2014 Trust Barometer can new viewed below. More commentary is available on the Edelman website.

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Piaras Kelly
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