Strong personalities on boards of management and amongst senior staff dominated the affairs in many credit unions. Interventions and internal audits by many supervisory committees were rare and, where they did exist, were brushed aside or dismissed.
How it all began!
With the introduction of the Credit Union Act (1997), which was, to a large extent, compiled by the then Registrar of Friendly Societies, Mr. Martin Sisk, the role, duties and powers of the supervisory committee were clearly enshrined in law. This enhanced position was subsequently integrated into the Rules of the Irish League of Credit Unions. Over the next few years, efforts were made at various levels of the credit union movement in Ireland to implement and monitor the implementation of the Act. Still, old habits and customs die hard and changing old ways and practices is not an easy task. Many frustrations were experienced by supervisory committees endeavouring to carry out their new functions and, in many cases, frustration was giving way to subservience and resignation.
ILCU & CUDA
By the beginning of the new millennium, some of the larger credit unions in Ireland were of the view that the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) had become less relevant to their needs in an era of financial and economic expansion. They had come together to form the Credit Union Development Association (CUDA), although some had maintained membership of both organisations. By 2002, there were some twenty-one large credit unions in CUDA.
Bishopstown Credit Union, in the western suburbs of Cork City, had also experienced growth and expansion and, with about twenty thousand members, had also joined CUDA, while maintaining close links with ILCU. Bishopstown’s supervisory committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Donal Murphy, was diligently trying to implement the spirit of the new Credit Union Act (1997), but found that there was inadequate support, training and guidance at its disposal. The supervisors, being cognizant of their status as unpaid volunteers in an expanding financial institution, were wary of things going wrong. They were of the view that, if any unfortunate incidents were to occur in the financial management of the credit union, then it would be the supervisors who would bear the brunt of the members’anger.
So, rather than curse the darkness, Donal Murphy, acting on behalf of the supervisory committee of Bishopstown Credit Union, opted instead for some light – the light that would surely come from tapping the synergy and collective wisdom of many supervisory committees throughout Ireland. On the 15th February, 2002, Donal Murphy wrote to the supervisory committees of the twenty-one or so credit unions which were members of CUDA; and he followed up this letter with individual telephone calls to each chairman.
He proposed a get-together of representatives of each of the twenty-one supervisory committees in order to discuss current problems, tactics and strategy, solutions and support systems for supervisory committees. What kind of response would there be?
Some ten weeks later, on the 25th April 2002, Donal Murphy wrote to the chairmen of those supervisory committees which had expressed an interest in a national get-together, inviting them to a Supervisors’ Conference, to be held at the Coolock-Artane Credit Union offices on Saturday, 18th May 2002. He enclosed a comprehensive and far-reaching agenda for this first conference.
Two days later, on the 27th April, 2002, in the course of the ILCU’s annual general meeting in Killarney, the supervisors present, numbering about 140, met as a group in an adjacent room. They were briefed on the discussions and plans from two days earlier and were also addressed by Mr. Liam O’Dwyer, CEO, ILCU, at the behest of Mr. John O’Regan, ILCU President. Mr. O’Dwyer conveyed the message that the ILCU would assist the supervisors in any way possible.
The supervisors’ conference took place, as scheduled, on the 18th May, 2002. It was attended by a total of seventeen supervisors, representing the following seven credit union:- Bishopstown, Bray, Coolock-Artane, Crumlin, Dundrum, Greystones & District, Lisduggan-Waterford. Interim officers were appointed at this meeting and plans were drawn up for briefing ILCU, CUDA and the Registrar, Mr. Martin Sisk, regarding the new development. It was formally decided to go ahead with the setting-up of a National Supervisors Forum and the hope was expressed that supervisors would also get together at chapter level and, perhaps, send representatives along from each chapter to the national forum.
A progressive meeting was held at ILCU headquarters in Dublin on the 6th July 2002, being attended by six representatives of the supervisors forum, together with Mr. John O’Regan (President) and Mr. Pat Fay of ILCU. The supervisors briefed the ILCU on their key issues and their intention to establish a national forum. There was a good understanding of the supervisors’ position by ILCU and it was agreed that the ILCU would subvent a one-day national forum of supervisors from credit unions all over Ireland, north and south. A further meeting of supervisors was held at the Tower Hotel, Waterford, on the 10th August, 2002, at which plans for a national supervisors’ meeting were further teased out. The following committee officers were also elected Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer : Donal Murphy (Bishopstown) Frank Nolan (Dundrum) Dee Archer (Greystones & District) and Geraldine Doyle (Dundrum).
First Conference of the National Supervisors Forum
The inaugural conference of the National Supervisors Forum was held at the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork, on Saturday, 19th October, 2002. More than 100 delegates attended the conference, representing credit unions throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The committee which organised the conference comprised:
- Donal Murphy – Chairman
- Frank Nolan – Vice Chairman
- Dee Archer – Secretary
- Geraldine Doyle – Treasurer
- Guests & Speakers addressed at the conference
- Mr. Martin Sisk, Registrar of Friendly Societies in the Republic of Ireland, on the Role of Supervisors and Board Review Meetings.
- Mr. John O’Regan, President of ILCU, on the subject of the value and importance of supervisors in the credit union movement.
- Mr. Andrew Moynihan of Denis Barrett & Associates, Accountants, on the subject of the supervisors’ duty to monitor accounts, book-keeping, asset registers, investments, etc.
- Mr. Gerard Howard, Revenue (ROI), on the significant topic of Deposit Interest Related Tax (DIRT), its implications and management.
- Mr. Peter Quigley, solicitor, on the subject of Boardroom Legalities in a Credit Union.
- Mr. Ted O’Sullivan, Douglas Credit Union, Cork, on the subject of training for supervisors – problems and needs.
This inaugural conference of the National Supervisors Forum was considered by all present to be an outstanding success and a template for future annual conferences.
Recognition & endorsement of the National Supervisors Forum
Following the undoubted success of the first conference of the National Supervisors Forum, a meeting was held between the four officers of the supervisors’ committee and Mr. Martin Sisk, at the Kingsley Hotel, Cork, in December 2002. The main purpose of this meeting was to request the Registrar of Friendly Societies (a) to write to all credit unions in the Republic of Ireland stating that the National Supervisors Forum was recognised by him and had his full support and (b) to write to the Minister of Finance, briefing him on the new Forum, telling him that it has the Registrar’s recognition and approval and requesting that he, too, would formally recognise the Forum and include it in any future consultation process involving legislation and regulation. The Registrar agreed to both requests. On the 30th April, 2003, Martin Sisk confirmed that the Minister had agreed to recognise and consult with the National Supervisors Forum.
On the 26th March, 2003, recognition was also received from Mr. Sandy Williamson, Acting Registrar for Credit Unions in Northern Ireland. Subsequent to these events, the National Supervisors Forum set about its normal and developing business of communicating with supervisory committees in credit unions throughout Ireland, organising training courses and seminars for supervisors, negotiating with ILCU, CUDA, the newly established Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority (IFSRA)/ Financial Regulator, and the Northern Ireland Registrar of Credit Unions. Its stated aim is to assist and support all supervisors in the execution of their duties and to represent their interests and concerns at all levels.