Ethics and Governance

Ethics: a quick reference guide

Jun 01, 2018
There is an oft used, simple, but valid summary that “ethics is about doing the right thing”. However, what action to take in an ethical dilemma is not always so simple. What we consider to be right and wrong is influenced by what we know. What we do is influenced not only by our knowledge, but our instincts and the specific circumstances in which we find ourselves.

To help you prepare for the day you encounter a difficult ethical dilemma, Chartered Accountants Ireland has launched an ethics quick reference guide, Five Fundamental Principles, Five Practical Steps. The concept of the guide is simple: it contains a summary of the five fundamental principles contained in the current Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics and includes a unique five-step ethical thought process to guide you in your decision-making.

While the five fundamental principles form only one part of the 182-page Code, they are a core part of the conceptual framework that is embedded throughout the entire Code. Many Chartered Accountants will be familiar with these principles from either their days as a trainee accountant or from their most recent bout of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) referencing ethics in the accounting profession. While many Chartered Accountants will be familiar, we hope the principles summarised in the guide will resonate with all of you.

The five practical steps outlined in the guide are designed to get you thinking about how you might behave in response to an ethical dilemma. Well-constructed codes are always useful and should be referenced at some stage in your ethical thought process. However, rather than basing the five steps on any particular code of ethics, they are based upon practical considerations of how one can respond to an ethical dilemma.
Dealing with a front-line ethical dilemma is not always simple. The first challenge can often be to recognise that you are experiencing an ethical dilemma. We won’t right all the wrongs with one simple guide but if we succeed in getting professionals and business leaders thinking, we have a chance of righting some wrongs – or at least avoiding others. 

The guide can be downloaded from the Ethics Resource Centre on