New legislation passed in the Oireachtas last month means Irish credit unions can now hold virtual AGMs.
The act was adopted in response to the health risk posed by Covid-19. Credit unions have been given an interim period of up to 30 April 2021 to determine how to convene an AGM, taking into account what is in their own rules. This period can be extended if needed.
The annual general meeting of a credit union for the financial year ended September 2020 may be held at any time during the interim period.
Under the act, a credit union does not need to hold a general meeting at a physical venue but may conduct the meeting wholly or partly by the use of electronic communications technology as long as all attendees have a reasonable opportunity to participate in the meeting.
The legislation allows credit unions to use technology to enable members to cast votes, whether before or during the meeting and removes the legal restriction on proxy voting. However, credit unions can continue to prohibit proxy voting in their own rules. Members are not required to be physically present at the general meeting or appoint a proxy who is to be physically present at the meeting.
Nevertheless, credit unions need to ensure that such technology provides for the security of any electronic communications by the attendee, minimises the risk of data corruption and unauthorised access, and provides certainty as to the source of the electronic communications
Attendees should also be able to hear what is said by the chair of the meeting and any person introduced by the chair, and speak and submit questions and comments during the meeting to the chair to the extent that the attendee is entitled to do so under the rules of the credit union.
Credit union are not liable for any failure or disruption relating to the equipment used by an attendee to access a general meeting by electronic communications technology that might cause disruption or interfere with the attendee’s participation, by the use of such technology, in the meeting.
Last year the Centre for Community Finance Europe (CFCFE) published two research papers about the opportunities and constraints for credit unions in Ireland and the UK considering virtual AGMs to enable greater participation in the democratic process.
“Credit unions will still need to consider the many practical issues arising, and we hope that CFCFE’s papers are useful in this regard. The legislation aims to be less prescriptive to enable credit unions to decide how best to manage these issues themselves,” said CFCFE.
ILCU Head of Communications Paul Bailey said: “Many credit unions have already held or are planning to hold their AGMs virtually in the coming weeks. If future lockdown restrictions permit, some credit unions may hold a hybrid AGM with officers of the credit union in one location and members joining virtually. The change in legislation means that, going forward, there is now flexibility for credit union boards to make a decision on the most appropriate method of holding their AGM subject to public health guidelines and restrictions. This effectively future proofs the holding of credit union general meetings in the event of further pandemics or future weather events”.
Credit unions in Northern Ireland are covered by the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act was laid by the Department of Economy on 17 December 2020, which extended the period for relaxation of meeting requirements from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021.