One of the Six Strategic Steps set out by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) in advance of the last general election was that credit unions would feature on the agenda of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach on a recurring basis. On March 21st last, I joined Mr Ed Farrell, CEO of the ILCU, to address this committee and discuss the critical issue of funding for social housing.
In the 2014 policy document Social Housing Strategy 2020, the then government looked to credit unions for funds. We responded with a very detailed policy paper setting out how that could be delivered in ways that would allow all credit unions who wished to contribute via a centralised vehicle that underpins the credit union ethos, and ensures effective regulatory oversight. The response has been very positive. Regrettably, delivery to date has been nil and the ILCU is concerned that this process is as much about time management, as change management.
What we do know is that on social housing, we are told by the Department of Housing that they are very interested in our proposal. Given that they elicited it; they should be. They in turn are talking to the Department of Finance, who we are led to believe are talking to the Central Bank. I have no doubt such conversations are taking place, what I do doubt is whether any action will ever arise as a consequence.
Credit unions have a lot more to give to communities. We have resources. We have a national network. But we are challenged too. On the one hand we must develop our business model. We are rightly reminded of this by the regulatory authority. But we are caught in a Bermuda triangle, where we must develop, but regulatory approval has not been forthcoming for the changes we must adopt. We receive political encouragement from an Oireachtas that ironically handed over nearly all effective responsibility to the Central Bank.
Yet, there are crying needs in our communities. The ILCU has developed detailed policies on how change can be achieved. But change will not happen, and credit unions will not realise their potential, unless there is sustained political involvement that effectively connects better policy with appropriate regulation.
My hope is that our appearance before the committee is the beginning of that process, which can, and should be, short and purposeful.