Credit unions are a powerful force for good in Northern Ireland, says deputy first minister

A member of a credit union for over 40 years, Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness believes the sector has a crucial role to play in caring for...

A member of a credit union for over 40 years, Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness believes the sector has a crucial role to play in caring for local communities.

Mr McGuinness was a keynote speaker at the World Credit Union Conference in Belfast, where he addressed over 1,800 delegates from 55 countries. He began by referring to the 1994 IRA ceasefire, which he described as “one of the most important peace processes in the world”.

On 31 August 1994, the IRA declared a “complete cessation of military operations” after 25 years of conflict and 18 months of secret talks between the British Government and the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Mr McGuinness was the IRA’s chief negotiator in the secret deliberations, which culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Full coverage from the 2016 World Credit Union Conference

The Sinn Féin politician grew up in Derry at a time when the city was faced with unemployment. “All of my family are members of credit unions,” he said, adding that everyone in the community saw credit unions as important organisations in tackling poverty. Credit unions were “almost like a religion”, he said, with people borrowing and paying back, keeping faith in them.

Credit unions offer people hope, financial stability and independence

“It is this duty of care and community that is the cornerstone of credit unions. We live in a world where change is endemic but the values and principles of the credit unions are as relevant today as they were when the credit union movement was founded.”

He added that credit unions had to remain true to their ethos, arguing that it would be damaging if people started seeing them as banks.

“Credit unions offer people hope, financial stability and independence when they need it most. Credit unions function because of the volunteering and community values and efforts. We must not underestimate their contribution to the social and economic well-being of people and families around the globe.”

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