ILCU Launches 50th Anniversary Celebrations

Media Release: 25 February 2008

(Media Release: 25th February 2008)

ILCU Launches 50th Anniversary Celebration of Irish Credit Union Movement

John Hume unveils Portrait of the three Credit Union Movement Founders; Sean Forde, Nora Herlihy and Seamus P MacEoin.

John Hume (Nobel Laureate and a founder member of the first Northern Ireland credit union in Derry) today (25.02.08) unveiled a commemorative portrait of the movement’s Irish founders, Sean Forde, Nora Herlihy and Séamus P. MacEoin at the ILCU offices in Dublin.

The three founders were the driving force behind the grass-roots movement which 50 years later is one Ireland’s biggest financial service providers.

Credit unions are Ireland’s successful financial co-operatives run by – and for – their almost 3 million members. Credit unions hold €13.4bn of savings; €15.1bn in assets and (at over €750m) are Ireland’s leading providers of social finance.

Speaking at the unveiling, Uel Adair (President ILCU) said “50 years successfully serving communities in Ireland is a wonderful achievement”. “The success of the credit union movement is a tribute to the tireless and selfless work of a generation of credit union volunteers all over Ireland” he added.

“But” Uel Adair commented“as Ireland is going through enormous social and economic change, credit unions are determined to continue offering their members the affordable, relevant services and products they require”.

It’s all a long way from 1950’s Dublin, where the three founders witnessed the effects of high unemployment: sickness, malnutrition, money lending, hunger, poor clothing, poor housing, and inevitably, emigration of one parent or of the whole family. In addition, state unemployment benefits were low and did not last indefinitely leaving many families in abject poverty.

The founders of the credit union movement recognised the root of the problem as lying in the scarce availability and poor management of money and resolved to identify a system that would allow people to gain more control over their finances.

The Irish credit union movement started in 1958 when a small group of dedicated individuals pooled their meagre financial resources in a determined move to make essential financial services available on a non-discriminatory basis from within the community.

Also present at the portrait unveiling was Nora Herlihy’s niece, RTE broadcaster Marian Finucane. “Nora was a very determined woman who had already formed the Dublin Central Co-operative Society in 1954 with Sean, Seamus and others” she said.

“It was set up to create employment through workers co-operatives and neutralise, at their source, the forces which caused emigration” she added.

A main function of the DCCS was the establishment and development of productive industry on a co-operative and co-partnership basis. To raise money, the DCCS founded a member’s savings and investment bank to finance the co-ops.

Three hard-working years later, the Credit Union Extension Service was born. “Its central figures included four women - a reflection of the powerful and often prominent role of women in ensuring the movement’s success from the beginning” Marian Finucane said.

Ireland’s longest established credit union emerged in Donore Avenue, Dublin in April 1958. The first weekly collection yielded £7. It was officially registered as a Friendly Society entitled Cumann Muintir Dun Oir in August 1958.

And while all this was happening, the then Minister for Industry & Commerce, Sean Lemass, set up a special committee to advise on legislative changes which would help to foster co-operative enterprise in the non farming sectors. Nora Herlihy was appointed to serve with twelve men. The deliberations of this committee were to form an important part of the process that led to the Credit Union Act 1966, the first legal framework of the movement in the Republic of Ireland.

Unveiling the new commemorative portrait of the founders, John Hume said “It is a matter of fact to describe the credit union movement as the most successful co-operative movement in the history of Ireland.”

“It’s a great legacy for the Dubliner, Kilkenny man and woman from Kerry” Marian Finucane said.

The economic situation for people has improved significantly since 1958 but the credit union movement remains true - and will remain true - to its ethos of providing essential financial services to everyone irrespective of class, creed or income level” Uel Adair said.

“Each credit union is run by its own members for the members’ benefit and so it builds vital social capital within their community” he added.

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