Credit unions pledge to serve small communities

CREDIT unions will provide financial services to areas from which commercial banks have departed, the new president of the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU), Anne O’Byrne, pledged yesterday.

“There have been fears that some small credit unions may be closed, or joined with bigger credit unions, but there’s a greater need than ever for credit unions in small communities from which banks have withdrawn. We’re staying in such communities and disadvantaged areas,” she said.

Ms O’Byrne, who was ILCU vice-president and is from Blessington, Co Wicklow, is the first woman to become president since the movement was founded here 47 years ago.

She defeated ILCU treasurer Carmel Dowling, Mitchelstown CU and Fermoy CU, at the ILCU conference attended by up to 4,000 people at the National Events Centre, Killarney.

Ms O’Byrne, a married mother of two and a clinical nurse manager at Peamount Hospital, Co Dublin, said the movement would continue to campaign for changes in legislation that would ease restrictions on its operations.

Many of the 531 credit unions, North and South, are flush with cash, but much of their surplus money has to be invested as they are limited in the products and services they can provide.

The ILCU wants to raise the €26,000 limit on deposits and wants to be allowed give out more money in loans over longer repayment periods.

At present, the three million members have €11 billion in savings, but only €6bn in loans. “Ideally, we would have 100% lent,” Ms O’Byrne said.

The average loan is for €7,100 and 80% of loans are under €5,000, but some credit unions give loans of more than €100,000.

Outgoing ILCU president John O’Regan, from Causeway, Co Kerry, said the ATM and electronic transfer issues would have to be progressed, as the current school-going population would be the main consumers of financial services in 10 to 15 years.

“We must be ready to meet the expectations of these young people, who are growing up in an increasingly sophisticated technological environment,” he said.

Mr O’Regan also said some parts of the Credit Union Act 1997 had become a hindrance to the development of credit unions and highlighted the restriction on the provision of longer-term loans.

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