Credit Union Restructuring Board (Dissolution) Bill 2019: Report and Final Stages

Bill received for final consideration.

As there are no amendments we will proceed to Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

We welcome the passage of this legislation. The Credit Union Restructuring Board, ReBo, played an important role in the restructuring of the credit union movement. It is fair to say that only a fraction of the overall fund that was put in place has had to be used. Are all the arrangements now in place to give effect to the measures in this Bill? I assume that ReBo is essentially stood down at this stage. I presume the transfer of the remaining fund into the central fund provided for in the Bill will now happen immediately.

I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on Fifth Stage. Sinn Féin will support this legislation. The Bill will wind down the Credit Union Restructuring Board, also known as ReBo. When the board was established many feared that the credit unions would be the next to collapse on foot of the banking crisis. While many difficult years followed for the credit union movement, credit unions got through that difficult period less damaged than many people expected at the time. By utilising their own resources and harnessing the voluntary commitment and social ethos of their members, they came out the other end.

I am proud to be a member of a credit union since I was a child. The first voluntary work I did was in the credit union movement. It is a fantastic organisation across the State. As Members are well aware, it allowed ordinary people to access funding to pay for Holy Communions, holidays, school books and so on.

While at the time the Government put the banks first, the credit union movement had to rely on its own members. Credit unions showed their resilience with only €20 million of the ReBo fund being utilised.

The restructuring board enabled nearly 100 restructuring projects in more than 150 credit unions, all on a voluntary basis. This is testament to the efforts of the credit union movement, which has secured its sustainability into the future. This is only a good thing for the many communities who rely and can depend on their credit unions.

While ReBo is no longer required and has been dissolved it is essential that the future sustainability of the credit union movement is supported by the Central Bank. Sinn Féin has for a long time called for reform of the lending limit rules that are applied to credit unions. Therefore, recent changes made by the Central Bank are welcome. We encourage further changes to allow credit unions to become bigger players in many sectors, including the housing market. Given the current housing crisis and difficulties of so many mortgage holders with the banks, the credit union movement is in a unique place to offer sustainable solutions for mortgage holders and those looking for a home. Sinn Féin also understands the challenges the credit union movement will face in competing with retail banks as they seek to attract younger members. It is crucial that credit unions are supported as the financial landscape continues to change. As I said earlier, credit unions have served communities well for decades. They are not like other financial institutions. Their social ethos and voluntary ethic provide services to communities and families that can be trusted. As the Bill winds down the restructuring board, I commend the credit union movement on its perseverance.

I thank all Deputies and members of the Opposition for their support of the Credit Union Restructuring Board (Dissolution) Bill 2019. I wish to reinforce some of the comments made by Deputies.

The Credit Union Restructuring Board, ReBo, which was established under Part 3 of the Credit Union and Co-operation with Overseas Regulators Act 2012, has completed the performance of its functions and has been operationally wound down since 31 July 2017. I trust that answers Deputy McGrath's comment. The contracts of all ReBo employees expired on or before 31 July 2017 and board members have also resigned from that date. I wish to put on record that my brother served as a member of the board. Legislation is required to dissolve the legal entity and to effect the transfer of all assets and liabilities of ReBo to the Minister for Finance. A caretaker board consisting of two Department officials and the Central Bank nominee will remain in place until dissolution is effected.

In its short lifetime, ReBo has facilitated 82 restructuring projects involving 156 credit unions with assets totalling approximately €6 billion across 24 counties. The Government provided €250 million in the credit union fund specifically for credit union restructuring, with only approximately €11.6 million of this fund used. The lower than anticipated spend on restructuring is essentially due to the fact that the majority of credit unions participating in restructuring financed the projects from within their own resources. Moreover, in certain cases where there was a shortfall financial assistance was provided by the Irish League of Credit Unions using its savings protection scheme.

The Act provides that when the Minister for Finance is satisfied that ReBo has completed the performance of its functions under Part 3, he may by order dissolve ReBo. Prior to dissolving ReBo, section 43(2) requires that the Minister conduct a review of the operation of Part 3 to determine whether ReBo has, in the Minister's opinion, completed the performance of its functions. In accordance with section 43(2), a final review of the operation of Part 3 was carried out in June 2017. Following an in-depth examination by Department officials the review concluded that ReBo had completed the performance of its functions with positive results. On foot of this review, the Minister for Finance decided to proceed with the orderly wind-down of ReBo. Advice from the Office of the Attorney General stated that while the Act provides for the dissolution of ReBo by ministerial order, it does not provide for specified sections of Part 3 to remain in full force and effect notwithstanding the dissolution of ReBo. As a result, for the relevant provisions to continue in full force and effect post-dissolution, the Office of the Attorney General has advised that the safest approach to adopt is to proceed by way of amendment to the Act. Therefore, it was required to bring this Bill forward to formally dissolve ReBo. I thank the Deputies for their co-operation and the co-operation of all parties in the House.

Inadvertently, I did not give Deputy Lawless an opportunity to speak. He will make a short contribution.

I apologise for coming in somewhat out of sequence. I appreciate the opportunity. I welcome that the Bill is passing Final Stage. It was a significant tranche of work, as has been mentioned by Deputies who have spoken.

I saw this up close in my constituency of Kildare North, where we had significant restructuring. What was Naas Credit Union expanded into Maynooth at the time of the trouble with Newbridge Credit Union. Then the Croí Laighean Credit Union incorporated much of north-west Kildare. There was fear, uncertainty and doubt among the members of those credit unions and the general public at the time. I imagine that was mirrored in many other parts of the country. However, there is a happy ending. It has got to a stage where those credit unions are stronger, better resourced, better funded and on a stronger footing with the fitness and probity and compliance regulations now in place. The board members were typically people of good character and ethos and the work was voluntary in nature. The extra scrutiny and vigilance now in force benefits everyone. It is a credit to the boards and to people like William O'Donovan and Peter Fullam in Naas Credit Union as the credit union expansion across the county was met with some trepidation. However, it was the right thing to do. I credit the board and all involved. The fact that it is now at the stage where its work is done and it can be stood down is a success in itself.

Question put and agreed to.