Tag Archives: Dan on Thursday

The street named after Cork Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain, killed by the RIC during the War of Independence. (right) lies in the city’s so-called ‘Victorian Quarter’; Dan Boyle

I had the privilege this week of seeing the excellent Paul Brady. The highpoint was a moving rendition of his song ‘The Island‘. I was particularly taken with the line, “Still trying to carve tomorrow from a tombstone”.

At the most recent Cork City Council meeting a discussion occurred about Cork’s imminent entry into the national decade of commemorations.

1920 was the year where Cork became the epicentre of the story of Ireland. Much of the narrative revolved around the two martyred (Lord) Mayors, MacCurtain and MacSwiney. They were two of the four men who held the office that year.

The year was to end with the evident war crime that was the burning of Cork’s city centre.

Cork City Council has been discussing how these events should be marked. Obviously they should be, but also in a context where what wasn’t talked about then and hasn’t been talked about since, can be addressed openly now.

The obvious omission has been the role of women in the War of Independence, or indeed with the development of the State since.

At least in committee the City Council has been trying to construct a programme of events that could be put in place that address such omissions and carry an awareness of sensitivities.

That had been the hope.

Last Monday’s public city council meeting descended into farce, as councillors sought to out-republicanise each other.

Greatest umbrage was being taken at the branding of a part of the city as the Victorian Quarter. It’s a branding that I have been somewhat indifferent too, although it doesn’t offend me.

The branding has certainly offended some on Cork City Council. They see it as being acceptance of everything and anything her name has ever been associated with.

From Famine Queen to arbiter of social mores to being Empress of India, the very existence of a Victorian Quarter in Cork is seen as a confirmation of an anglocentric view of history.

But it really isn’t. In the case of Cork it highlights a collection of buildings whose architectural sense can be described as Victorian.

My fear is that a year of commemoration, that can be and should be dignified, will instead be open to hundreds of reinterpretations, all based on offence.

What the decade of commemorations has succeeded in doing has been to help us understand that there is no single, definitive version of Irish history.

Not only are there nuances, we should also be more understanding in realising that the same set of circumstances can be looked at differently through different perspectives.

Through knowledge of complexities we can begin to understand. It is more of a loosening rather than a letting go. Both being difficult in the context of Irish history.

We need to get away from a my history right or wrong approach as quickly as possible. It is the important next step in our maturing as a country.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Fine Gael’s Dara Murphy after retaining his seat in the Cork North Central constituency at the 2016 General Election; Dan Boyle

I was in Leinster House when Dara Murphy was coming through Cork City Council. I had left the Oireachtas while he became a Minister of State with responsibility for Europe.

I thought he had done a good job as Lord Mayor of Cork. I felt that in the Dáil he had been over-promoted, something the current Taoiseach seems to have agreed with.

He achieved a degree of notoriety when he insisted that a Garda patrol car drive him from Cork to Dublin, when his own car had broken down.

His political timing had been impeccable. Within months of ending his term of office as Lord Mayor, the 2011 general election also saw the retirement of long time and popular Fine Gael flag bearer, Bernard Allen.

His became the more obvious name for the Fine Gael seat in Cork North Central. When he failed to be reappointed as Minister of State he seemed to go into something of a funk.

Nevertheless he had used his European brief to impress someone in the European People’s Party of his otherwise not very obvious abilities.

The EPP the political home of Berlusconi and Orbán. The umbrella group of the right and the centre right political parties in Europe. It must take a particular type of charm to succeed in the EPP.

Such charm allowed Dara become an EPP director of elections for the 2019 European Elections. In those elections the EPP lost seats.

This must have especially annoyed the appointed leader of the group, Germany’s Manfred Weber, who up until then had been considered a shoe in to become the next President of the European Commission.

Despite this, Dara’s now legendary European charm has seen him parlay himself into another job. This time with the European Commission. Fair play to him I say, even if he risks becoming identified as a political manifestation of the Peter Principle.

Ostensibly since 2017 Dara Murphy has been largely absent without leave from the public office to which he had been entrusted.

For this period of double jobbing he seems to have had the tacit approval of the Fine Gael leadership. Beleaguered Eoghan Murphy has said that Dara Murphy’s EPP position was a more important job!

Dara Murphy certainly must have had the co-operation if not the collusion of the Fine Gael whips office. In a minority government his regular absences would have had to be accounted for somehow.

His viewing of his elected position, along with the endorsement of his party colleagues, as a secondary position, has been a calculated insult to the body politic.

His siphoning off of all available moneys associated with his position as a Teachta Dála, without accompanying effort, has to be seen as an obscenity.

Through the years our paths have intersected though we have taken wildly different journeys. If success is measured by the pay cheque that pertains to the position, then I will gladly admit defeat.

His is a road I wouldn’t want to travel on. It is a moral cul de sac.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic via The Echo

From top Taoiseach Leo Varadkar canvassing with Fine Gael by-election candidate Verona Murphy in Wexford town; Dan Boyle

Recent Dáil by-elections have tended to be coupled. We have to go back to 1952 to see more than two by-elections held on the same day.

In 1945 five by-elections were held, a housekeeping exercise after travel restrictions from ‘The Emergency’ were lifted.

The largest number of by-elections on one day was in 1925, for seven constituencies to fill nine vacancies than resulted from that number of Cumann na nGaedheal TDs resigning in protest at its government handling of an army mutiny.

The nine loosely formed a political party, the National Party, although only one of these nine contested the by-election, and that was in a constituency he hadn’t previously represented.

For the most part, and particularly in the early life of the State, single seat by elections have favoured Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates.

By elections became the main vehicle for entrenching the hereditary principle of wives/sons/daughters assuming seats.

Only in recent years have these patterns begun to change.

The holding of a number of by elections simultaneously sometimes gets referred to as being a mini general election. They rarely are.

On occasions they can be. Clann na Poblachta won two by elections on the one day in 1947, announcing its arrival as a potent new force. While the party would go on to win a third by election, it was to prove a false dawn.

When Jack Lynch lost two by elections in Cork, in 1979, it brought to an end his time as Taoiseach. That indirectly led to his replacement by Charles Haughey.

As it happens Haughey had been unsuccessful in a by election in 1954, when the son of the long sitting TD, Alfie Byrne, had the better of him.

It could be said that Pearse Doherty’s 2010 victory, Sinn Féin’s only such by election win, hastened the end of the Fianna Fáil/Green government. Although by then that end had already been well and truly hastened.

Most by elections can’t be extrapolated onto a national political picture. Turnout is lower than in general elections. Local issues tend to muddy the waters. The electorate tends to make collective calculations on which of two or three candidates are in the strongest position to challenge.

Just like football teams that specialise in cup or league competitions, less traditional political parties have begun to specialise in by elections.

In recent years the Socialist Party, in various guises, has won two by elections. During its brief lifespan the Democratic Left also won twice.

The Progressive Democrats never won a by election, although its founder Dessie O’Malley came into politics via a by election as a Fianna Fáil candidate.

The Green Party has yet to win a by election. I’m hoping this might change this weekend. I have a selfish reason for wanting that to happen. I am the best performing Green Party by election candidate in its history. Twenty five years ago I won 16% of the vote in Cork South Central. It’s about time someone did better.

Success in a by election is no guarantor of future political success. Almost one in five by election winners are not elected in a subsequent general election.

A more interesting correlation is that by election runners up are quite successful in being elected in later elections.

Maybe those are the lines we should be reading though this weekend?

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

From top: Fine Gael by-election candidate Verona Murphy’s campaign office in Wexford town; Dan Boyle

The nod and wink of Irish politics is being replaced by the ‘you know what I mean’ provocative phrase. The trigger word, the dog whistle, the epithets of hate, have gained currency in our cheapened political discourse.

Such phrases are more often than not thought through in advance, and rarely are slips of the tongue.

Calculations are made. If some liberal types get offended, a forgiveness strategy might need to be put in place.

Reaction should be swift but doesn’t necessarily have to be sincere. It is a careful calibration against the character doubt that may be created.

For some who have been offended, the thought of someone who has proffered a near immediate apology, is thought to diminish the seriousness of the original, offensive, comment.

Thus two sides of an audience are faced at once.

On the edge comments we wrongly analyse as stand alone content. Too often we ignore what is being implied.

Recent comments by Fine Gael by election candidate, Verona Murphy, on immigration and homelessness came across as crass and cruel. On the surface they certainly were. However the veiled implications seem quite in keeping with current, prevailing, Fine Gael philosophy.

The gist of this philosophy is that the sole determinant of personal wealth is the ability to work hard and be rewarded for effort.

The corollary of this philosophy is those without wealth only have their lack of effort to blame for that.

For hard work also read the market. This the regulator that most strongly rewards those who work hardest.

With the market as king, society stops being a shared experience becoming instead a battleground of competing interests.

In the World of modern day Fine Gael, the worst of these competing interests are those unwilling to work their hardest. They become a drain on those who do.

They are best helped by having them confront the market, whether that be education, employment, or more particularly housing.

Those less mercantile within Fine Gael would point to the party’s Just Society policy document as proof of the party’s sensitive side. Except this would be to exaggerate the place of Just Society in the mythology of Fine Gael.

Adopted as the party’s 1965 election platform it was quickly jettisoned by Liam Cosgrave, who was later to describe the authors of the Just Society document as ‘mongrel foxes’.

Only under the leadership of Garret FitzGerald could Just Society be seen as representing the ethos of Fine Gael.

In the UK, the Conservative Party equivalent would have been One Nation Tories. Largely paternalistic in their approach to social issues, One Nation Tories like Just Society Fine Gael, do show that compassion once existed in right wing parties.

With the Brexit take over of the Conservative Party, One Nation Tories will soon become extinct, joining in an extinction rebellion with their Just Society Fine Gael colleagues.

Margaret Thatcher once famously stated that there was no such thing as society. With the non adherence, in any shape or form, of its once vaunted Just Society values, the current party of government in Ireland seems to now believe that we are just a society.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

From top: The Irish Hotels Federation is attempting to block a large student accommodation facility in Cork being rented out on a short-term basis ; Dan Boyle

Recently Bord Pleanala upheld an objection from Cork hoteliers that a student accommodation centre should not be allowed to offer short term lettings during its off season.

An economic interest group was protected. A competing interest was denied the opportunity to maximise use of its rentable space.

To me this decision should ordinarily be filed under a two bald man fighting over a comb category. It could even be placed into a how many angels on the head of a pin debate.

For what the main planning arbiter in this country is judging on here is not best the interests of a community where such buildings are located, but the consequences of when particular types of, encouraged, development occur more quickly than other more necessary built infrastructure.

In Ireland we place a great emphasis on new construction as a driver for the economy. Because of this we have become more concerned with the scale, rather than the type, of construction that occurs.

Those who develop, those who build, do so in Ireland on those projects that can be constructed quickest that then can realise profits at the earliest opportunity.

Often investment in particular types of development is encouraged through our taxation policies. Many of these tax policies have been lobbied for by developers who argue that it is the number of cranes on the skyline that matters, not so much if the right type of building is being built in the right location.

And these tax incentives help to subsidise the profits of those who lobby exactly for this.

The type of development that has risen, most recently, most quickly, has been commercial property and defined developments such as hotels and student accommodation.

The moribund area of construction is housing, particularly the lack of social housing development.

This is dangerous in a number of respects. Firstly, the construction industry has a limited capacity. The more this capacity is directed towards developments on which there is an overemphasis, the lack of capacity there will be for housing developments.

Secondly, non housing developments get concentrated in and the around the centre of our towns and cities. This reduces the space available for housing developments in these locations.

Housing developments, as and when they occur, are forced to become more and more suburban based, with consequent environmental cost.

Ultimately we risk creating transient communities made up of office workers, tourists and students. We are losing hope that we can create living city and town centres made up of more sustainable population bases.

The point of our planning processes should be that they achieve appropriate and balanced development. Any development isn’t necessarily good development.

We should be regulating infrastructural need ahead of industry preference.

If current trends continue as they are, supply for buildings with transient use will far exceed demand. Then we are likely to hear calls to convert such buildings into residential use. Too much too late.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton at the launch of the First Progress Report on the Climate Action Plan 2019 in the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin last week; Dan Boyle

I’m beginning to understand An Taoiseach’s alternative thought patterns that bit better. The need to be popular sees him promote alternate realities, actual reality being too hard to sell.

In these alternate realities we should be happy that as a country we have Direct Provision for asylum seekers, rather than giving them tents, which apparently is an option.

The number of asylum seekers, as stated in the gospel according to Leo, has not yet reached ‘swamped’ levels in Ireland.

However eternal vigilance is needed, says An Taoiseach, to avoid such ‘swamping’. He has then gone on to identify which asylum seekers from where are to be least trusted. A vital public service.

But it is his cheery take on climate change that has me most convinced. How we have lacked having such a visionary in our lives? Our priorities have been askew. Ireland’s far higher than average carbon emissions should be seen as a route to a better future.

Balmier winters producing a longer living, healthier, population is an idyll we have been avoiding for far too long.

With this as the new focus of government policy, why bother needing to take responsibility for the existence and the level of fuel poverty?

What further pearls of wisdom then await us? Perhaps a devastating put down of the risks of sea level rises on the basis that it will create shorter distances to the beach (new beaches, that is, without sand)?

As a country we could do with more of the unfettered optimism that An Taoiseach, along with some of his cabinet colleagues, are giving when delivering a progress report on their National Climate Action Plan.

The report is claiming that an 85% success rate is being achieved. How brilliant it is to be so tantilisingly close to perfection, and yet to continue to be so badly failing in the main reason for having a Climate Action Plan – ever increasing carbon emissions from Ireland.

Not only is An Taoiseach a master of alternate realities, he is also a genius of counter intuitive thinking.

This government promotes a National Development Plan and a Climate Action Plan, as flagship elements of policy that the government claims are mutually compatible.

They are not. Given that the Development Plan is seen, by the government, as being more equal, it is clear that it carries more deeply the government’s imprimatur.

The prioritisation within the Development Plan will see favoured infrastructure projects becoming fast tracked, the completion of which, of each, will see additional carbon loadings being placed on already vastly exceeded levels.

Maybe this is disjointed rather than counter intuitive thinking.

And yet….

I don’t think An Taoiseach has properly thought his pleasant Winter scenario through. More people living longer because of warmer winters, means more pension payments, greater use of free travel, and more stress on the health service.

The people who get up early in the morning to go to work may not be so happy about that.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Rollingnews

From top: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: Dan Boyle

Having painfully discovered that asking a binary question does not, of itself, extricate a country from forty plus years of international treaty commitments, our friends across the water (and up North) are now facing a fourth general election in nine years.

In a bitterly divided country, reliance will now be put on one of least democratic voting systems in the World, where victory can be claimed with only one third of the vote.

The value of the votes that get cast in an UK election are but one thing. How votes are informed is a far more important aspect altogether.

Britain possesses one of the most pernicious ‘free’ media in the democratic World, one that isn’t countered in the slightest by public broadcasters there.

It is a media goverened almost entirely by proprietoral interests. No exaggeration is ignored in pursuit of these interests.

A bought and sold for media has managed to convince many in Britain that they are the victims of others, the EU and assorted other foreigners, rather than the destiny makers of those elite and established British privilege holders whose look over there politics has helped them hold sway for far too long.

More than likely this established Brexit narrative will take hold in this election. Boris Johnson and the Tories seem on course to achieve a majority in the next House of Commons.

Whether this majority will be used to quickly process the currently agreed deal with the European Union, or instead pull another rug then steam towards a No Deal Brexit designed to create the dream of Singapore on the Thames, we will yet find out.

The Tory majority, if it comes, may not be that substantial. The party will lose seats in the south of England to the Liberal Democrats. In Scotland to the Scottish Nationalists.

The key to the election will be in how many seats the Tories can win from Labour in Leave voting constituencies in the English Midlands, or in the North of England. A North of England that previously was forbidden territory for the Tories.

Once again Jeremy Corbyn will be the key figure in the election. He is neither the Maoist terror figure he is often portrayed by the Murdoch led press, or the hapless fool is sometimes seen as, at times even by his own party colleagues.

He has though been the author of his own difficulties. His ambivalence, in leading a Europhile party against his long standing opposition to the EU project, was one of the biggest contributory factor in bringing about a Brexit yes vote in 2016.

If a policy led narrative takes hold in this election, then Corbyn could yet make the recovery he made in 2017.

But he will be up against a far better opponent than Theresa May. Johnson maybe incorrigible and more corrupt, but he is a substantially better campaigner.

Victory for Corbyn in this campaign would be to stop a Johnson majority. In this he could be helped by Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party, whose search for a perfect Brexit may siphon off key Tory votes.

Up North a Remain alliance could see DUP come back with less MPs. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Fianna Fail TDs Niall Collins and Lisa Chambers have became embroiled in ‘Votegate’; Dan Boyle

When I was first elected a TD electronic voting in the Dáil was on the cusp of being introduced. For the first few months of that Dáil the traditional method of walking through the lobbies was used

It didn’t matter what was being voted on. It could be on the Budget. It could be on challenging the Government’s order of business of the day. Regardless of the importance of the vote, and with repeated votes, often two hours of each sitting day were wasted through this arcane procedure.

I thought the electronic voting to be a huge advance, although the option of calling a walk through vote still exists in the standing orders of the Dáil.

It doesn’t take long for the novel to become commonplace. Seventeen years later many TDs seem to have become blasé about their voting procedures.

With any procedure mistakes can and do happen. Much of the mitigation that has been spoken of in recent days can be put in such a category.

Strange as it may seem seats in the Oireachtas are allocated for voting but not necessarily for sitting.

In an usually near empty Dáil chamber party spokespersons tends to speak from their party leaders seats. Whenever a vote was called seats would be filled as space allowed.

With the Green group of TDs we would frequently push each other’s buttons. (I’m thinking that last sentence can be read in a particular way…).

As a party whip I remember calling into the Debates Office to correct a vote that had been misrecorded. The wrong button was pushed. I can’t remember if the mistake was mine, or that of one of my colleagues.

It is probable that public feeling, where it exists, takes this into account. The unease that is being created is because of an impression that the act of voting, a key role of any elected representative, is being treated in a cavalier, practically contemptuous way.

What I don’t remember then, what I am sad to see has developed since, is this seemingly prevalent practice of voting for someone else while also casting your own vote.

It is difficult to envisage any situation where a TD in a chamber would be doing something more important than having to push a button to record their vote.

Maybe it’s a throwback to the time of the walk through vote? When these happened, especially for backbench government TDs, they represented one of the few occasions where rarified space was shared with ministerial colleagues.

Maybe it’s time for a further tecnhological change? Maybe we should be considering votes not being registered unless accompanied by fingerprint recognition?

It is sad to think that an honour system can no longer be relied on in our parliament. Even sadder to think that a techological fix might be needed to restore confidence.

Most frustrating is the amount of political time and space being given to this issue, an issue that undoubtedly is part of the circus element of public attention.

When deeper and more real concerns exist, nationally in the form of a lack of access to housing and to effective health care, globally in trying to deal with the climate emergency; #votegate is an irritating distraction.

The wrong buttons keep getting pressed.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top, left to right: Green Party Deputy Leader Catherine Martin TD, Finance Spokesperson Neasa Hourigan and Leader  Eamon Ryan TD launching the party’s pre-Budget 2020  submission in the Irish Georgian Society, Dublin last week; Dan Boyle

It has been ever thus. For thirty years I have listened to commentary that there isn’t any need for The Greens to exist, as other political parties have always been prepared to steal our ‘clothes’.

The problem with this often facile type of analysis is that it disregards the indifference, and more often contempt, the wider political system has displayed towards environmental issues during that period.

Sure pieces of clothing have been stolen, but the scale of environmental crises has sadly seen the Green wardrobe increase disproportionately.

And those stolen items have often been worn quite badly. Sometimes inside out. Sometimes back to front.

Much the same with the lack of depth in those clothes stealers having any real understanding of the crises we face.

Buzzwords get seized upon by those who want to don green apparel. Such terms get repeated ad nauseum to convey the impression of understanding, because in politics it seems perception is far more important than action.

Early in the lifetime of the Green Party in Ireland, a debate occurred on whether it should become a political party, or not. Far better, it was argued by some, to be a campaigning group seeking to ‘green’ political parties from outside the political system.

The political party argument won out for a number reasons. One fairly obvious factor was the prior existence of campaigning organisations.

A more persuading reason was a prevailing belief that the political system, with existing political parties, were beyond persuasion and had to be challenged.

Any movement needs to weave several threads together – the political, the educational and the campaigning. The past ebbing and flowing of Green support can partially be put down to these threads never pulling together strongly at the same time.

That isn’t the case now. Against that it may be the case we are now living in a period of peak environmentalism. If we are then we so badly need to make that count.

Pennies are beginning to drop, when pounds/dollars/euro need to. Public goodwill is at its most disposed towards taking necessary environmental action.

The political debate has been won to a certain extent. We continue to have a problem. The ability/willingness to address that problem has become a problem in itself.

A business as usual approach is incompatible with addressing our environmental crises. Saying the right thing, and being more concerned with the superficial, when not accompanied with appropriate action, makes those politicians, who choose this approach, to be very much part of the problem.

The climate deniers will always be with us. Far more dangerous are contrarians, agnostic on the science, but possesed of some pathological distaste for Greens, who they identify or engage with in stereotypical terms.

Often they can’t even agree on the stereotype. Terms, always used perjoratively, like naive, effete, middle class, or when the context demands it ‘crusty’, interchange solely as means to undermine the existence of environmental problems or to avoid necessary policy choices.

In this era of fake news contrarians tend to, conveniently, ignore that addressing climate change can only occur while social and economic fairness is also pursued.

The other weapon of the contrarian is to exaggerate the emphermal and represent that as typical.

This I have come to categorise as Reverse Cry Wolf Syndrome.

Either the tide is turning or it is about to engulf us all. I’m really weary of it.

But, with others, I intend to keep trying to work to wear down the petulant sulks of those whose indifference, hypocrisy and outright denial, has brought us to where we are now.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews

Recent legislation has weakened the value and the values of Ireland’s Credit Unions, writes Dan Boyle (above)

A couple of years ago my local Credit Union decided to give up its distinct identity to become part of a larger, merged entity. This saddened me. Five credit unions now operate as one, under a new single banner.

Two of the five credit unions have no geographic connection at all, with the area that had been served by the three core credit unions.

More worryingly still there is no obligation to have the original communities represented on the Board of the new entity.

The drive for less but larger credit unions has been the result of a decades long campaign of harassment, I would argue, by other financial institutions abetted by financial regulatory bodies, underlined by the Department of Finance.

This climate of competing with banks by achieving economies of scale has led to recent moves by credit unions to request that the interest ceiling on loans given by them, currently and traditionally 1% a month, around 12.8 % APR. should be raised to twice that amount.

From the late 1950s’, the 12% rate has proved a simple maximum rate for the credit union model. When combined with an established savings habit it gave confidence when granting a loan.

While the loan was nominally 12 %, the rules allowed for a rebate of interest as well as a dividend, the actual interest rate, depending on the credit union, could be as low as 5% or less.

70% or 80% of the funds could be out on loan. The size of the loans were modest, and typically short term. Loan repayments and savings refilled the coffers anxiously awaited by a queue of further loan applicants. Borrowings that went to improve their lot made possible by a union, they themselves owned.

The model, comprising volunteer oversight, together with some paid staff, worked incredibly well.

During times of high inflation that drove high interest rates in banks, credit unions continued to provide loans at ‘affordable’ rates.

From local credit unions came the need to set up a representative body, on a national/all island basis. This helped in creating loan insurance products, death benefit entitlements for members, along with generous pension funds for staff.

More importantly, it set up a monitoring service to ensure the member credit unions stayed financially on track, combined with training programmes, while crucially acting as guardian of the Ethos of the movement.

Recent legislation has weakened the value and the values of the credit union movement in Ireland. It is helping quickly to diminish its community role. Not only geographically but also communities that can be formed, and informed, by a common bond. Groups, communities, made up professions or trades or involvement with a government agency, for instance.

Increasing prosperity has seen access to other sources of credit become available. The demand for credit union loans began to fall. Despite this membership has continued to grow. None the less, the increasing staff and managerial costs have been becoming a factor.

The traditional Credit Union has been trying to hold to operating principles and the social strength it gives. The representative body, and larger credit unions, have become increasingly disconnected from the founding community ethos.

This bigger is better approach is mirroring pretty exactly the process that saw the formation, before the Millennium, of many Saving and Loans, banking light, in the United States. These more ‘competitive’ entities were the canary in the coalmine that previewed the global banking collapse of 2008.

The goal must be to keep community banking parallel and not to integrate with other financial institutions. One forgotten aspect of the Irish banking crisis was the amount of credit unions who banked with Anglo Irish Bank.

But damage has been done.

Credit unions are now labelled as financial institutions. Legislation has created a new kind of credit union manager. The mantra is now on growth. Boards have been sidelined through the setting up a ‘managers’ forum’. The members have seen their role reduced to that of stakeholder.

There has been little change in the take up of loans. They grow more expensive, while members can borrow elsewhere. Desperate for income the old operating principles are being abandoned.

Now, instead of promoting thrift and sensible lending, some of these new ‘improved’ credit unions are promising money for any and every need.

Now it seems they sidle up with their lobbyists to government, as if they were the pigs leading the other animals in taking over Mr. Jones’ Farm. If they secure approval to charge the higher rate who will pay it?

Not those better off, they have other options. It will be the poorest. It will be like that final scene in Animal Farm, except now we won’t be able to tell the difference between the credit unions and the money lenders they were supposed abolish.

The Central Bank encourages this. They seek to weaken the volunteer board by promoting the role of the manager/CEO. There is a telling line in the ‘Report of the Commission on Credit Unions’ which says

“For all their distinctive features, credit unions are, first and foremost, financial institutions, which primarily accept deposits (or shares) and make loans. In this regard they are similar to commercial banks”.

This lack of recognition of the community credit union with its unique facility to draw on the shared honesty and integrity of the community to build a local efficient economic bubble, risks losing this great resource when we need it most.

There is almost a black humour in the central bank pledge to secure ‘strong credit unions in safe hands’. It is vital that the traditional community credit union be allowed to operate as a counterpoint and not as an adjunct to the banking system.

We don’t need US style Savings and Loans, with the chaos that came from them. We need, and should insist, on community banking.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews