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August 8, 2023

Wider impact of credit unions

Credit unions are a global movement with over 375 million members across 118 countries, but these not for profit financial institutions, owned and run by their members and often community based, are far from being the default choice in this country to meet our banking needs. That’s probably because credit unions can’t really be compared with a mainstream banking service that sits as an App on your phone. The contribution of credit unions is quite different – much more than a simple offer of convenience banking. This tale of how one Irish credit union came about is worth a read.


Anca Voinea, Cooperative News

Sixty-five years ago 31-year old Eileen Byrne (Eileen Ni Bhroin), a nurse, and her sister, 29-year old Angela Byrne (Aingil Ni Bhroin), a schoolteacher, attended a study week in the Skerries organised by the National Co-operative Council. 

While there, the sisters watched a film about credit unions in Australia and started discussing the concept with a man who had recently come back from the country. Upon their return to their home on Donore Avenue, Dublin, they shared their experience with some neighbours, including Treasa McGeehan, who invited them and a few other people over to her home on Hartcourt Terrace to discuss the matter in greater detail. Another meeting followed on 26 April, 1958 in Eileen and Angela Byrne’s home at 35 Hamilton Street.

Shortly after, Donore Credit Union was born, with assets of £100 and a membership of 100. In 1958 its first office was located in the home of the founders Eileen and Angela Byrne on Hamilton Street. In those early days committee members collected money at the homes of each member on a weekly basis.

Eventually, a temporary office location in a garage on Donore Avenue was set up and then later moved to the side office at 45 Donore Avenue. The office was then relocated to a rental property opposite St Teresa’s church and in 1969 the premises on Ebenezer Terrace were set up and the credit union remained there until 1991 when a new building on 22 Rutledge Terrace opened, where it still operates.

Today the credit union, the oldest in the country, has assets of €40m and a membership of just over 5,300. Its ethos, however, remains the same.

“Since then, we have been all about serving our members and community. We believe in the importance of offering a personal service where our staff often know members on a first-name basis and where people can discuss financial matters face-to-face without being redirected to a machine,” says CEO David McAuley, who knows many of the credit union’s members personally.

“Although we offer modern services such as online banking and a mobile app to make our services more accessible, we will never diverge from the traditional service we have been offering for 65 years.”

A chartered management accountant, McAuley joined Donore in 2016. He had been active in the credit union sector since 2008.

Despite growing in size and membership, Donore remains committed to serving its local community in the Liberties neighbourhood, also known as Dublin 8. In 2020, it became the first credit union in Ireland to measure the social impact it has on its local community. Its Social Return on Investment Study showed that for every €1 invested into the credit union it, in turn, creates a social value of €10 that goes back into the community. 

With over 250 credit unions which have over 3.6 million members, Ireland has the highest number of credit union members per capita in the world.

“The credit union is truly something that is a strong part of our culture,” adds McAuley.

Donore recently marked its 65th anniversary by hosting a Community Awards event on Friday, 12 May in St. Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street. 

“This event was filled with joy and smiling faces of people from the community as local unsung heroes were recognised for going above and beyond for their communities, neighbourhoods and having an overall positive impact on people’s lives,” says Nick Ahlmark, the credit union’s marketing officer.

“On this eventful evening, Donore Credit Union awarded 21 individual awards and three joint awards to people that were nominated by their friends, neighbours and community. Over 120 nominations were received in total, and the selection process was challenging with a good number of heart-warming stories about the selfless acts that people do on a daily basis to better the lives of people around them.”

So what’s next for Ireland’s first and oldest credit union? Donore continues to focus on the core business of loans and savings while offering sustainable finance options to the local community.

In 2022 its loan book reached €13m, double the value of 2018. In 2021 it introduced Greener Home Loan, in partnership with Energia and House 2 Home, of CU Greener Homes. Under the scheme, Donore grants of up to €35,000 per home available, as well as additional financial support from Energia for eligible work – with loan rates starting from 4.9% APR. Grant support of up to €35,000 per home is also available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) for deep retrofit works on homes built pre-2011. 

“We have repurposed ourselves as the provider of sustainable finance for our community,” says McAuley. 

“We have measured and reported our social impact, and that has led us to position ourselves as the best option for delivery of a sustainable community through a co-operative democratic not-for-profit model that is focused on delivering sustainability through social and environmental projects. Having repurposed ourselves, we have overcome challenges in the recent past and now are an energised forward looking credit union that has an engaged and active membership with growing loan book and membership. 

“We have brought that message to many of our credit union colleagues and there are now a number of credit unions positioning themselves in that space.”