Microcredit scheme - Here’s to the credit unions

OF all our financial institutions, none are more revered than the credit unions and it is not difficult to see why.

The announcement yesterday that a pilot microcredit scheme for people in receipt of social welfare payments is to be rolled out nationwide is in the best tradition of this not-for-profit movement of financial co-operatives which began in Germany in the 1860s and is now a worldwide phenomenon.

It was introduced in Ireland in the 1950s through the efforts of three pioneers, Nora Herlihy, from Ballydesmond, Co Cork, an aunt of RTÉ’s Marian Finucane; baker Sean Forde; and Séamus P MacEoin, from Kilkenny, a civil servant working in Dublin. We should have a statue to all three.

The national extension of the personal microcredit scheme is hugely important, especially for people in a debt crisis and who, up to now, have had to resort to either legal or illegal moneylenders.

Many of those forced to resort to such measures will have already been refused by banks and other lending institutions. They are among the poorest of the poor in Ireland and need relatively small amounts of cash to finance occasions like communions, birthdays, and Christmas.

Even the legal moneylenders can charge interest of up to 200% whereas the maximum charged by credit unions is 12%. Let us hope the credit unions will give them a run for their money.

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