Independent TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, has offered a cautious welcome to a bill to expand the services of credit unions, saying credit unions must retain their close ties to the communities they serve.
Addressing the Dáil, Deputy Pringle said he has been highlighting the importance of community banking and called on the government to expand the remit and the authority of our credit unions.
The key proposals in the bill include providing for the establishment of corporate credit unions, to enable credit unions to share resources and opportunities and allowing credit unions to refer lending business to each other and participate in loans to other credit unions.
However Deputy Pringle said he fears for the future of credit unions and the vision that the government has for community banking.
He said: “There is a trust between families and credit unions. A trust that has been lacking with banks for a long, long time. At this point, banks are too far removed from local communities and from a community’s wants and needs.
“I welcome the bill’s intention to expand the services of credit unions and to encourage further community development. The community aspect is what makes credit unions unique and successful and we should ensure that we are protecting this community focus going forward.
“It is for this reason that I cautiously welcome the Credit Union (Amendment) Bill,” he said, adding, “As is noted by the Irish League of Credit Unions however, there are aspects of the bill which require amending.”
The deputy said: “I understand that there are definite advantages to this, but I fear that an amalgamation of multiple credit unions may take away from the community aspect of local people working in the local credit union, giving loans and advice to other locals and businesses, and that is vitally important,” he said.
Deputy Pringle said the government should be facilitating credit unions in maintaining their business and maintaining their model rather than attempting to change it.
The deputy said: “I agree that it should not be the case that credit unions are only lending €5.5 billion of their €20 billion assets and so I welcome this legislation’s intention for credit unions to develop plans for lending in the community such as loans to small business, agri-lending and retrofit loans. However this doesn’t have to be done through collaboration.
“I believe that individual credit unions, when given the necessary support, are well equipped to handle this development,” he said.
Deputy Pringle said: “I would also like to know what the ultimate aim is regarding credit unions. Is it the intention to make them into a type of bank? I think we should avoid this at all costs.”
He said: “I understand that with the closure of KBC and Ulster Bank, as well as the closure of many bank branches throughout the country, particularly in rural areas, there is space for more banks. However, this should not be used to turn credit unions, or An Post for that matter, into banks. An Post and credit unions provide a personal and customer-specific service.”
Deputy Pringle said: “Credit unions in my constituency of Donegal are invaluable. Constituents rely on community banking to access loans that mainstream banks wouldn’t even dream of considering them for. There is room for them to evolve, however, and I do believe this bill is a significant step in doing this. I support those aspects of the bill, but again I want to stress my concern over the future of credit unions and what the government envisions for them.”