Lily Fitzgerald, a first-year student in Kinsale Community School in Cork, undertook a major survey to detect the public’s reaction to the controversies and was rewarded with a place in the RDS exhibition.
Her results revealed that around six in 10 people experienced a drop in trust for the force as a result of the publicity around the controversies.
Lily’s interest was awoken while she was scouring newspapers as part of her English class.
“I kept coming across it more and more so when I was asked about ideas for the Young Scientist I came up with this,” she says.
“I thought that people’s trust might have deteriorated although locally I would still have trust in the guards we know.”
Her idea was to conduct as wide a survey as possible to detect the public mood. She designed a questionnaire and got to work, surveying people outside her school, on the streets of Kinsale, in Cork’s Wilton Shopping Centre, and in University College Cork.
To get some geographical spread, she roped in cousins in Dublin to distribute the questionnaire.
In total, she got 570 responses, a level that exceeds some national polling by professional companies.
And the results?
"A total of 59% said it did affect their trust but not for 41%,” she says.
Other headline figures were that 11% of respondents said their trust in the force in 2002 was 10 out of 10, but that this level of trust had dropped to 4% by last year.
Lily also polled people on what might restore trust in the gardaí, to which 56% replied more transparency.
Lily still has great time for her local gardaí, one of whom gave her a loan of a jacket and hat for the exhibition, but overall her trust is not what it was.
“I read so much about it that yeah, my trust did drop, particularly regarding how they treated the whistleblowers. That wasn’t fair,” said Lily.
She intends to put her work to good use.
“I hope to release my data to An Garda Síochána so they can use it for their own use. I didn’t do this project just to enter it — I wanted to help An Garda Síochána by doing pioneering research for them.”