Credit unions seek legislation change to help movement modernise

ILCU launches policy manifesto document at Stormont reception with Conor Murphy

Pictured at the launch of a manifesto by the Irish League of Credit Unions in Parliament Buildings are (from left) David Malone, ILCU chief executive; Martin Busch, ILCU president; Economy Minister Conor Murphy; and Martin Fisher, head of Northern Ireland at ILCU (DARREN KIDD)

The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) has unveiled a policy manifesto to support the Stormont Assembly in bringing about essential changes and recognising the essential role they play within communities and the wider economy.

The document - entitled ‘The NI Credit Union Movement: For Community – Not Profit’ - has three key policy asks, underscoring the need for modernisation and financial backing to strengthen and secure credit unions for the next generation.

The ILCU is firstly urging the Assembly to modernise credit union legislation (which is almost 40 years old) in the north to allow it to develop and offer financial products to meet members’ needs.

Secondly, credit unions also need financial support for new digital platforms and services, to reflect changing consumer needs and level the playing field with larger financial institutions and strengthen cyber-security. They are also seeking a specific rates scheme exemption for credit unions.

And beyond financial matters, the ILCU sees credit unions as pivotal players in promoting sustainability within communities, and the manifesto is urging the Assembly to provide certainty around green home improvements, advocating for a comprehensive package of incentives and regulations.

Economy minister Conor Murphy, speaking at an event in the Long Gallery to coincide with the manifesto launch, confirmed that he will set up a team to deliver the outlined policies and legislation - “at pace and within the three years remaining of the mandate”.

He added: “For more than six decades credit unions have financially supported families and small businesses through affordable finance and a deep connection with the communities they serve.

“Their role is even more important today as a result of mainstream financial institutions – institutions that were bailed out by taxpayers during the global financial crash – continuing to withdraw their traditional services from both households and businesses.”

Martin Fisher, NI head for the ILCU, said “For over 65 years, credit unions have been the cornerstone of community-driven financial services in Northern Ireland, marked by remarkable growth and success.

“Over a third of the population are members, surpassing commercial banks in unsecured personal loans.”

With an asset book totalling £1.87 billion, including £1.61 billion in savings and £644 million in loans, credit union members saved up to £30 million in interest through nearly 50,000 loans under £1,000 in 2022 alone.

He added: “As not-for-profit cooperatives owned by members, credit unions embody the power of community in action.

“But despite our success, challenges lie ahead, and we seek government support. This document outlines our requests to policy-makers for assistance, emphasising collaboration to enhance financial well-being and contribute to future economic growth.”

Credit union membership by each NI Council area:

  • Derry City & Strabane - 64.4%
  • Newry Mourne & Down - 54%
  • Fermanagh & Omagh - 53.3%
  • Mid-Ulster - 52%
  • Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon - 34.2%
  • Belfast City - 32.3%
  • Causeway Coast & Glens - 27.6%
  • Mid and East Antrim - 19.1%
  • Antrim & Newtownabbey - 16.7%
  • Lisburn & Castlereagh - 8.7%
  • Ards & North Down - 5.3%