DUBLIN, Ireland -- Never have I met so many people who want to talk about their credit union. I am not talking about the attendees at the World Council of Credit Unions' 2006 World Credit Union Conference in Dublin Ireland July 27-30th. The only thing a person has to say is to mention the magic words "credit union" and someone in Ireland is ready to tell you their story.
On the plane I was seated between two Dubliners, going home after their holiday. They asked me if I was going on vacation and when I said I was attending a credit union conference, one said, "The credit union saved my life." He then launched into a tale about how as a much younger man he had begun to save money with his credit union, but because of family problems, he had to leave home. He borrowed 2,000 Irish pounds (It was long before Euros) and went to America where he worked for a year. When he came back with enough savings to support himself through university, family tensions had ebbed. Unbeknownst to him, when he went to pay off the loan, his father already had, and he immediately paid his father with interest and a bit more to take his "mum out to a good dinner."
The other man mentioned how happy he was with his credit union. The taxi driver taking me to the hotel asked, "You wouldn't be going to the credit union conference would you?" When I said yes, he told me he had heard an American talking about credit unions on the radio (Pete Crear, CEO of WOCCU). He added how his wife handled their money, but each week she puts a bit into the credit union. He admitted they borrowed from time to time when they needed it. Sitting writing a story for Credit Union Times, a hotel employee came into the room to check if there was still tea and coffee. A few minutes after a friendly exchange, she said she was going on holiday tomorrow with a loan from her credit union. Each year she borrows for a holiday and pays it back over the winter, but she wanted to make sure she knew she saved too. With one out of every two Irish belonging to a credit union, it isn't surprising they all know about credit unions. What is surprising is the total trust, respect, warmth and esteem they hold credit unions in. In a way, they speak of credit unions with the same pride as they would talk about their children. In what I thought was an amazing move that I had to share with readers, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, arrived unprotected. Ahern arrived with his driver. He had no bodyguards with him. Ireland is not a backward country where the top elected official in the land is unimportant. Ireland's economic turnaround, called the Celtic Tiger, is beginning to slow. In 2002 its economic growth was 8%, but the daily papers this week were moaning it had dropped to 3%. Several participants in the conference remarked, there was something refreshing if not unbelievable that a modern nation's leader could walk without fear.