FEW things remain static and sometimes we can reflect that the only constant is change. For four decades the Irish credit union movement progressed slowly and changed hardly at all as it steadily grew into one of the finest community institutions in the history of this State.
As a not-for-profit people's banking system it brought self-reliance and community solidarity in money management to virtually every parish in the country. But the excesses of the boom years brought pressures to the credit unions in common with many other institutions and in a small number of cases serious damage was done.
As part of the repair and overhaul of one of the most important of our community bodies, the Government has been promoting the idea of merging and consolidating credit unions. Today our personal finance editor bring us news that almost one in three of Ireland's 392 credit unions is now considering a merger.
So far up to 40 credit unions are ready to merge with one another in a move which we are promised will not cause job losses or force any fundamental change in the movement's sound underlying principles. It is a change which promises greater efficiencies and better economies in purchasing of services.
The work is being promoted by the Credit Union Restructuring Board and backed by a €250m government fund to cover the considerable legal and technical costs which may occur. This money is in addition to the €250m fund set aside to re-structure credit unions which have got themselves into serious financial difficulties.
The arguments advanced to support this change appear valid and should be in the longer-term best interests of the 2.8 million Irish people who have credit union accounts. It is to be hoped that the bigger structures can develop better services for all its members and continue to promote good money management and self-reliance.
But there remains just one nagging doubt. This relates to one of the movement's greatest strengths which has been its management's very close linkage to its own customers who have been relatives, friends and neighbours.
With reports that exploitative money lenders are increasing their activities in many poorer areas, the credit union movement's community rootedness is now more important than ever before.
So, bigger credit unions cannot become more remote credit unions. That may well be the greatest challenge for the movement as it appears headed towards a new era.