The Irish Times view on the ESRI survey of attitudes: a pattern of waning trust

The report underlines the importance of overall economic stability and progress in shaping attitudes

A fascinating insight into mindsets on both sides of the Border is provided by a new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), entitled Changing Social and Political Attitudes in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It shows some erosion of trust in democracy, government and public institutions in recent years, put down to a mixture of factors including the rise in economic uncertainty and the impact of the Covid pandemic.

In the Republic, the early years of the 21st century saw strong confidence in public institutions and democracy and hope for the future, but this was shattered by the financial crash. Confidence and trust in public institutions recovered along with the economy but, while still high by European standards , it fell off after 2019.

While the survey data for Northern Ireland only runs to 2018, there are also signs that the Brexit vote and its aftermath and successive suspensions of Stormont have damaged trust in public institutions and democracy. This suggests that politics is, indeed, important in shaping overall attitudes in Northern Ireland, the researchers found.

In the Republic, where more recent data is available, the researchers say that the Covid pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, problems in housing and healthcare and the arrival of refugees may all have contributed to feelings of “pessimism,powerlessness and perceived unfairness”. This appears to have particularly affected the attitudes of less-educated people and the young. In the North, younger people also show signs of alienation, while the better-educated seem frustrated by the lack of economic progress.


The report underlines the importance of overall economic stability and progress in shaping attitudes as well as, in Northern Ireland, the presence – or absence – of a functioning political system. It also shows the challenge of falling trust and increasing alienation of younger people, added to no doubt by social media as well as fundamental economic factors, such as the perennial question of housing costs.