The fate of Newbridge Credit Union: a volunteer director speaks

I’m putting this up for information purposes, as the blog ran material earlier about events at Newbridge Credit Union

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Breda Reid (r) with one of the credit union's 2012 Education Bursary winners, Rebecca Murphy; picture by Leinster Leader

Breda Reid (r) with one of the credit union’s 2012 Education Bursary winners, Rebecca Murphy; picture by Leinster Leader

Knowledge is power they say and the members of Newbridge Credit Union have been kept in the dark for too long. It contains all the info I can give at this time, you will see what I mean when  you read it. Please forward to your family and friends who may be interested and ask them todo likewise. If we can get it to go viral we may get some response. We can but hope.
Breda Reid

Hiya,

Well at last it is out in the open. The Sunday Business Post reported yesterday that the final dismantling of Newbridge Credit Union will take place within the next few months. Strange isn’t it that a Sunday newspaper is the vehicle chosen to inform volunteers, staff and members of our Credit Union’s fate. Although, perhaps it is not so strange as the Central Bank and Dept of Finance have preferred this method of communication from the beginning of this particular fiasco.  In the 24 hours before the appointment of the Special Manager on January 13th last year the Dept of Finance leaked like a sieve with information that had local media buzzing before we even knew the order had been approved by the judge.

Since Wednesday 11th of January 2012 the Board of Directors have been silenced by a gagging order which threatens them with a personal fine of €100,000 and/or three years in jail if they breathed a word of what was going on in their credit union.

Their right to defend themselves was removed by judicial decree and they have been subjected to unrelenting negative coverage from the media which thrashed their ability and integrity. To tell you the truth I had become very cynical about journalists who seemed happy to print information supplied by the Central Bank and regulators office without verifying it for themselves. But thankfully I think that tide is turning. Perhaps the Anglo tapes have caused them to think again.

As many of you may know I have been a volunteer director since 1993 and during that time have encountered many highs and lows as we navigated  Newbridge Credit Union through the often choppy waters that constituted Irelands financial service sector in the 1990’s and more recently since the present recession began in 2008.  We worked hard to maintain our shared vision for our Credit Union which was to become a leader in the ethical provision of savings and loans with a strong member, community and local economy focus.

However, nothing in my life or my credit union experience to date prepared me for the Armageddon that was visited upon us on January 13th last year.  The debilitating effect of those first 12 months on my physical and mental well-being left me with no other choice. I had to resign.  I tendered my resignation to the Special Manager last January. I am not a person who gives up easily but too many sleepless nights and constant anxiety in the pit of my stomach led to my decision. I have always regarded myself as an optimist and campaigner but the consequence of not being able to tell our side of the story or carry out the work we were elected to do, rendered myself and the rest of the board powerless.   Not a condition any of us were used to.   We were being treated like outcasts and the remnants of my pride and dignity would not allow me to stay a moment longer.  It was my way of protesting but was in hindsight a pointless gesture; as I am still bound by the gagging order and now, along with other volunteers and staff, I am not allowed to know what is going on behind the scenes in the credit union.

With my hand on my heart I’m telling you we did not deserve the treatment meted out by the Central Bank and Department of Finance. Newbridge Credit Union was always one of the best run and most successful credit unions in the country and I will go to my grave believing that what has happened and is about to happen here is a huge miscarriage of justice and abuse of power. The Special Manager was appointed to undertake a review of the CU’s financial position with regard to Loan Book and Reserves.  This evaluation could have been carried out under section 91 of the existing credit union act.  What was there to gain by creating the media circus which occurred over that first weekend including thousands of words of newspaper print, most of it so inaccurate and fictional it could have come from the pen of Hans Christian Anderson himself.

I found it very hard to come to terms with the powerlessness. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine our Government through the Central Bank could behave as rashly and carelessly as they did.  They rode roughshod over your democratic rights while all the time proclaiming they are protecting your savings…  The simple truth is, they want to control your savings, or if possible get them out of the credit union and into the banks. As you know they very nearly achieved that in Newbridge on January 13th 2012.

You will be well aware how much the special manager has cost Newbridge Credit Union so far.  Apart from the reputational damage, the final cost will be around €2million. This begs another question as to how a Credit Union, which is supposed to be in trouble, could afford to pay the exorbitant level of fees charged by Ernst and Young (Auditors to Anglo in the Good Old Days) but were not allowed to pay a dividend to their loyal members who have kept faith throughout this calamity.  Your rights as members of the credit union were also removed the day the special manager was appointed.   Democracy and truth were indeed the first casualties in this particular war.

But unfortunately we are the small people.  And small people don’t seem to matter in the greater scheme of things.  We became lab rats in their experiment, a training ground for bank auditors who never set foot inside a credit union before.

Regrettably when small people come up against the big guns, the Central Bank, Regulator, Department of Finance, Arthur Cox etc, their voices are rarely heard.  We were caught between a rock and a hard place wanting to scream about the injustice of it all but fearing that if we spoke out they would come down on the credit union like a ton of bricks. We have learned that their power is absolute. If we were allowed we could explain how the board was manoeuvred down a cul-de -sac where we were ambushed by new legislation that was never meant to be used against credit unions.  We could also show our figures, how not one penny of members money was lost in investments or otherwise and how we managed to bring in a surplus every year since the recession began and how members, struggling to survive, are still trying their best to repay loans.

But the story of Newbridge Credit Union is not just about savings, loans and dividends: There is no doubt that it helped bring prosperity to the town in the last 44 years but there was a hidden added value to it as well.   Through Bursaries, Donations and Sponsorships we continued to support many local groups, schools, clubs and organisations in the town and beyond.  Up to €250,000, in sponsorship, was spent in the locality in the three years before the special manager was appointed.   All of this will be lost if their plans come to fruition.  Only the loyalty of our members, built up over forty four years, prevented a major run on our credit union last year.  I would like to think that those members who benefited from loans and good dividends over the years will keep faith with the volunteers and staff as they work hard behind the scenes, despite the unenviable situation. Because if Newbridge Credit Union disappears you will be left to the tender mercies of the banks!  The Sunday Business Post reckons we will be joined with Naas Credit Union. That is one rumour verified.  The other rumour out on the street maintains that the building is to be sold to a government department.

Our Credit Union; the building built and paid for by us – to be sold by a stranger, employed by our government to our government! Every notion I ever had about truth and justice will be tested to the limit if that happens.

I am writing this to give you an idea of what is going on in Newbridge Credit Union.    What I would really love to do is shout from the rooftops about what really happened here and would willingly do the jail time, but unfortunately I cannot plunge my family into debt of €100,000, we just cannot afford it.  So the ball is in your court. Let your families and friends know. It is time for the members to make their voices heard.  There are lots of votes in Newbridge so let them feel your presence in some form.  Rattle their cage.  Fax, email, and write postcards and letters, join petitions aimed at the Minister, local representatives and the Central Bank, demanding your right to be heard.  Reclaim the democracy stolen from us last year.

Ni neart go cur le cheile… There is strength in unity.

Breda Reid.

PS. In the meantime I wish Maynooth Credit Union the best of luck in their legal attempt to challenge the Central Bank around the same issues.

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Posted on July 31, 2013, in Credit unions, Democratic rights - general, Economy and workers' resistance, Irish politics today, Public events - Ireland, Social conditions, twenty-six counties. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The fate of Newbridge Credit Union: a volunteer director speaks.

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