Ireland boasts the highest rate of credit union membership per capita in Europe, figures show.
The data, published by the European Network of Credit Unions, claims Ireland is “one of the strongest and most popular” union networks in Europe.
In Ireland, 75% of the adult population own a credit union account.
There are 53,000 credit unions around the world, serving roughly 188m members.
In Europe, there are 1,169 with nearly 6.3m members.
These are stretched across Ireland, Britain, the Baltic states and parts of eastern Europe.
While Britain has 480 unions, it only has 891,283 members using them.
In comparison, 3m people use Ireland’s 498 unions.
Only Poland, with nearly 2.2m users of 59 unions comes close to Ireland, on a membership basis.
And, in terms of how much savings members have in their accounts, Ireland is also well ahead of its European counterparts, with a combined €11.98bn — Poland is next, with a figure of nearly €3.3bn.
According to the European Network of Credit Unions, Ireland has added 120,000 new members in the past two years.
Kieron Brennan, chief executive of the Irish League of Credit Unions — the largest industry representative body here — said that the figures highlight “the strength of the Irish movement and the loyalty of our members in communities and parishes across the country”.
“As many people in this country feel the pressure of increased bills and living expenses, it’s important that they have alternatives to the high cost services of moneylenders — which often trap households into a cycle of debt.
“We want our members to know that we will put them first at all times and will continue to provide these local, accessible services well into the future,” he added.
The credit union movement here has, however, been facing a challenging time over the last year or so.
The number of unions which are generating an annual surplus is falling consistently and further consolidation amongst local unions is also likely over the coming year.
Last year saw a double- digit percentage rise in the number of Irish credit unions chasing unpaid loans through the courts.
As well as this, regulatory and legislative changes concerning the sector are likely to result in changes to the overall credit union model in the coming years.
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