Credit unions will overcome crisis, meeting told


IRELAND’S 500 credit unions have €6 billion available to pay out in loans but because of the recession, members are cautious about borrowing, an industry conference in Belfast heard at the weekend.

The president of the Irish League of Credit Unions Mark Bailey told its annual meeting that the movement could not be immune from the financial crisis affecting Ireland but it would meet and overcome that challenge.

He believed the sector would also come through whatever exposure it faced to bad loans and to other difficulties.

“I have no doubt that this movement that is no stranger to adversity – hard times and harsh conditions form part of our very make-up – will be safer, stronger and more secure for all our credit union members as a result of the challenge,” he said.

Some 1,200 delegates attended the event at the Waterfront Hall on Saturday. There are 498 credit unions throughout the island, with 103 of them in Northern Ireland.

There are 2.98 million members, with 40,000 new members joining last year. The credit unions have €12 billion in savings, €6 billion in loans and €6 billion available to loan, said Mr Bailey.

So far 12 credit unions which reportedly have got into difficulty have been assisted by the movement’s Savings Protection Scheme (SPS).

“Thankfully in all cases over the past number of years when some credit unions have been in receipt of SPS funds they have traded out of their difficulties,” said Mr Bailey.

The Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who was guest speaker on Saturday morning, said credit unions were absolutely vital and he was confident they would weather the storms.

“The credit unions can always be depended upon to be there at times of adversity and there is no doubt whatsoever given the world recession and the economic circumstances that exist North and South that people will be even more dependent on credit unions at this time,” he told The Irish Times after delivering his address.

Mr McGuinness, conscious of how lucrative it was for Belfast to host the conference, made a pitch for the 2013 convention to be held in Derry, to mark the year of Derry as UK City of Culture.

Mr Bailey said he was sure the board would examine whether Derry would be a feasible location for a future conference.

On Saturday Tyrone county manager Mickey Harte addressed delegates on the importance of volunteering and community solidarity. He said that true “people skills” and “good communication” were necessary tools to aid recovery. “It’s important to see the good in people rather than to focus on the fault-finders.”

He also spoke on the issue of spirituality, saying it was important to realise that “people matter and God matters”.