Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Credit Union Restructuring Board (Dissolution) Bill 2019: Second Stage (Resumed)
Michael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which I welcome and will be supporting. We need, however, to recall the days when the country was in trouble. As was pointed out earlier, the then Minister for Finance said in the Seanad that the credit unions would require up to €1 billion. It was probably not his view as someone probably gave him that information. Regardless, it was reckless information because it sent a shiver down the spines of many around the country who started off the credit union movement and volunteered from town to town.
We do not realise the amount of good work credit unions do throughout the country. In smaller villages and towns, the banks have absconded after getting the money. The Minister of State referred to a figure of about €11 million. The credit unions have basically stood up to the mark and funded themselves. That needs to recognised when we bear in mind that we put €60 billion into banks and got damn-all out of it. It shows the credit unions were prudent and worked in a good way around the country.
Consider how the banks operated 20 or 25 years ago. When one goes into a credit union now, one does not see a machine, which is what the banks now have. One sees a person who will say hello. This is especially good for the elderly. The credit unions have that touch. I have said time and again that the Government needs to give the credit unions the facility to lend money. I am aware there is a fund of €16 billion or €17 billion but the biggest problem in many areas is lending the money. We need to ensure we can facilitate lending as best as possible. In areas that the banks have left, the businesses have gone to the credit unions. The credit unions provide the change for the pubs and shops and they provide all the various facilities required. We need to make it increasingly possible to use a card at an ATM in a credit union.
There was a problem when the clearinghouses were costing the credit unions serious money. There was a debacle whereby the main banks were causing the block. The credit unions are going to the banks of rural areas that the bigger banks have left. They need all the various facilities of banks because this will be the salvation of many parts of this country.
Coincidentally, I received an email this evening stating St. Jarlath's Credit Union received today an award for being the best credit union in Ireland. This is a great achievement for Mr. Mick Culkeen and all the staff. St. Jarlath's started off in Tuam but amalgamated and is now in Mountbellew and many other locations. It is now providing loans of up to €150,000 in certain cases. The problem, however, is that some credit unions may have €15 million in a bank account but have a problem lending it because only so many bigger loans may be given in proportion to the smaller loans. The Central Bank needs to give the credit unions the facility to work around this. My local credit union, in Glenamaddy, managed by Mr. John Murphy, offers considerable help to people. The credit union is always the first to offer sponsorship or provide funding, be it for a disaster fund or otherwise. This is because it is of the community and people from the community are involved. Although credit unions can hold their local identity, they need to bring numbers together to be able to borrow or lend in larger volumes. We must, however, give them the facility to try to match the banks because there is a deficit in areas that the banks have left.
I learned from the heads of the credit union that they wanted to help with housing, as Deputy Ó Caoláin stated. They have a large amount of money that they were willing to lend on a long-term basis to help with the housing crisis.
It is my understanding they have never been taken up on it. We must keep money circulating. Credit union money is local people's money. Credit unions could also provide long-term schemes which would allow scope, for example, for a State body that wanted to build a lot of houses. It would be a way forward for them to flourish, but it would also be good in addressing the housing problem. We should incorporate credit unions more in such endeavours because they are willing to co-operate in these areas.
We must also remember that credit unions got themselves out of difficulty on their own. There was a lot of fear when the figure came out, but whoever gave it to the Minister was reckless because it had come from the unknown.
I will finish on this point as I do not intend to detain the Minister of State all evening. We need to make sure credit unions can lend more widely, either under legislation or in working with the Central Bank. Farmers are now getting loans from them. Some time ago the amounts they were given in loans were not big enough. Facilities are being made available bit by bit, but they are slow in coming. If the Government could do one thing for rural Ireland, it would be to give credit unions the facility to give more loans. I am not saying they would have to loan every penny, but we must ensure they can compete with the banks because we need them, as bank branches have been closed in so many places. Credit unions operate in small towns and could also do other things as they have sub-offices in small villages that open on a Saturday or a Sundays, which is helpful to people living in rural areas. They might be able to incorporate other services with they financial services they offfer in rural areas. I support the Bill and will vote for it.