DUBLIN, Ireland – Although Liam O’Dwyer speaks with a soft Irish lilt, his words are passionate. This is a man who cares. This is a man who wants to make a difference. O’Dwyer, the new CEO for the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU), talked with Credit Union Times about his past and present and what he hopes will be ILCU’s future under his leadership. The future also includes some major legislative changes that will affect credit unions across Ireland. O’Dwyer’s knowledge of credit unions cames from his duties at his previous post as National Director of Operations of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The 10,000-member society believes, “No work of charity is foreign to the society.” “In Dublin the credit unions were key players in helping the poor,” said O’Dwyer, and that made him “a great admirer of their work.” For him Irish credit unions “gave people an opportunity to manage their own life,” which he felt was and is “crucially important.” He is proud to have been part of the activities. The help was concrete. St. Vincent de Paul and credit unions worked together to develop MABS, Money Advice and Budgeting Service, a loan guarantee scheme to keep the poor out of the clutches of predatory lenders – despite the historic financial success story of Ireland, 6% of the population is still living in poverty. Credit unions must serve both those who have had found financial success and those who are still looking, O’Dwyer believes. He realizes that he has a lot to accomplish. O’Dwyer’s post was created as a result of turmoil within the movement which Credit Union Times reported last year. A study was conducted by a neutral firm and the plans they put forth approved at an all credit-union meeting. One of the recommended steps was to hire a CEO. O’Dwyer was that CEO selected after a long search. When asked what he hopes to accomplish, O’Dwyer said, “The most important step is to develop the services that the members are looking for.” ILCU has 535 member credit unions representing 2.6 million people. One in three Irish belong to a credit union. The credit unions have 7.5 billion Euros (US$7.9 billion) in assets. Their sizes vary from the very small parish credit union, to larger city credit unions. Irish credit unions want a league that meets the needs of all its members. O’Dwyer knows to do that he has to rebuild the confidence in ILCU as well as to become a trusted figure in the industry. It isn’t that one comes first. They have to be done together, he said. He envisions his 60-person staff attending a “sizeable number of meetings.” The Irish credit union movement is organized into chapters. The meetings will not be for staff to tell credit unions what they want the members to do, but rather to listen to what the members want from ILCU, O’Dwyer said. O’Dwyer has talked to Shaun Spiers, his counterpart at the Association of British Credit Unions, Ltd. (ABCUL) Although each country has separate challenges, there is one that the two will have in common. UK credit unions have just gone through a major change in government regulators, and a similar change has been recommended for the Irish financial services industry. The goal of Irish legislators is to bring all financial services under one umbrella. O’Dwyer is not opposed to this, but he realizes that his work is cut out for him if the new regulatory body is to recognize the special qualities of credit unions, which he describes as the volunteerism, the non-profit character, and the willingness to help those that banks won’t touch. He certainly doesn’t want to have the poor resort to predatory lending as in the days before credit unions were formed. O’Dwyer expressed admiration for the sense of volunteerism of credit union board members. He himself is a volunteer. He coaches local juvenile soccer teams. Even with his new post of five-weeks, O’Dwyer finds time to spend with his wife Mary, son Daniel and daughter Juliette. There’s even been time for a game of tennis, another of his passions and to watch Manchester City play soccer (football) on the telly. And there may still be an occasional chance to ski, another passion he acquired when he was living and working in Holland. ILCU said in introducing him to their membership “It’s not surprising that a man who talks with such passion about our well being as a society should identify one key challenge for the credit union movement.” With O’Dwyer’s passion, Irish credit unions will have a man who guards their soul as well as their services. [email protected]

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