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KILLARNEY, Ireland – “God must love ordinary people, he made so many of them,” Mary McAleese, president of Ireland told the assembled delegates at the World Council of Credit Unions’ Conference after greeting the group in both Gaelic and English. McAleese quickly made the audience feel she, too, is an “ordinary person,” and that was more the real her than her role as president of a country. She told of being a teenager and going with her grandmother to a drafty parish hall in Belfast, Ireland to hear a man talk about the “sacredness of the individual.” He wasn’t talking about religion, but how people can make a difference in their own lives by harnessing their power through collective action. This collection action was the pooling what money the people had to the benefit of all. That man was future Nobel Laureate and credit union activist John Hume. He marked the beginning of McAleese’s connection with credit unions, a bond that continued long after she was a young teenager to the present when she holds the highest office in her country. McAleese has already begun planting the seeds for that bond with her family All of her children are credit union members, and they know that the “bits and pieces” put together in a community makes everyone’s lives better One of McAlesse’s children won a local credit union art contest, she remarked. Credit unions throughout Ireland sponsor these contests annually from the local to the national level. The crowd laughed when McAlesse said she encouraged her daughter to find another profession outside of art, because she felt that her daughter won the contest, not for her artistic skill, but because she had shown the real meaning of credit unions in a panel of drawings of a paid bill, a new washing machine, a car and a student going off to university, all made possible because of credit union loans. “Credit unions are not rocket science,” she said, but to her and others they represent an Irish saying “Unity is Strength. People don’t know their intrinsic strengths until we work together.” Credit unions help develop families, communities and countries, McAleese said. She cited the tremendous changes in the financial market place as well as in technology and gave her congratulations to the credit union movement in Ireland, the U.S. and the rest of the world for having the strength to survive those changes. She attributed the strength to the structure and the integrity of the movement. McAleese spoke passionately about people giving of themselves, forsaking an evening in front of the television, to go to that meeting to sit down and find ways to make their communities better by harnessing the resources of each individual. She credited all the volunteers who counted pence for their neighbours. Although she remembers harder times, McAleese is heading a country that has gone through a financial transformation. Immigration, once so necessary for the survival of thousands of Irish men, women and children even a generation ago, has been stemmed, and in many cases people are coming back. Unemployment has gone from 20% to 3%. However, for those 3% living outside the dream, hope is still needed, McAleese said. Credit unions are in the business of hope in helping people realise control over their lives, and recognizing in each person their potential “genius”. McAleese credited credit unions for rescuing ordinary people from the “powerlessness of poverty” not just in Ireland but throughout the world. -

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