Categorized | Credit Unions

Credit union chiefs and family win cars and cash (and it’s all in the rules)

Michael O’Farrell

Investigations Editor

MORE than half a dozen management figures at credit unions throughout the country have won their own membership draw, the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Credit union board members, branch managers, staff and their close relatives have won cars and valuable cash prizes in their own branch draw – but it’s all within the rules.

Yet despite concerns that rules should be changed to prohibit connected people from winning – in the interest of eliminating any perception of a conflict of interest – none of the credit unions investigated by the MoS said they would alter a thing.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of credit union officers who won prizes, since most credit unions do not prohibit related people from entering membership draws.

However, some management staff who did not want to speak publicly, acknowledged that prohibiting credit union officials from entering their own draws would be a positive step. One even told the MoS he had taken himself out of his branch draw to ensure he could not be accused of a conflict in the event of a win. ‘I don’t need a car that badly, it’s not worth the grief,’ he said. Under the Credit Union Act, board members of all credit unions have a fiduciary duty to avoid conflicts of interest and to subordinate relevant personal interests to those of the credit union. Other stated fiduciary duties include the duty to act prudently and diligently in all credit union matters.

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At Sligo Credit Union – where the MoS has identified six staff members who have won cash prizes in recent years – a board statement said the draws were run in a ‘transparent manner with the appropriate systems and controls in place’.

Sligo’s branch manager Barry O’Flynn – who won €1,000 in a membership draw in November 2013, and whose wife won a €250 cash prize the following month – said the credit union was ‘fully compliant’ with expected standards. ‘As credit union members, we avail of exactly the same services, including the car draw, as all our members without preferential treatment of any sort and we fully support the strong fitness and probity standards applicable to all credit unions,’ he said. At CANA Credit Union for Revenue Commissioner staff, a Volkswagen Golf was won by a director of the board. In response to questions from the MoS about the draw, a statement said: ‘Board members, volunteers and staff act in the best interest of CANA at all times. Our draw is conducted in a clear and transparent manner and the board is satisfied that appropriate systems are in place and that the draw is fully in line with legal and regulatory requirements.’ Billy Doyle, the manager of Dundalk Credit Union, issued a virtually identical statement in response to MoS queries about the possibility of related parties winning prizes in that credit union’s car draw. Mr Doyle himself has not won any prizes in his branch draws.

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Tipperary Credit Union CEO Pat Shanahan confirmed that Kathleen Prendergast – the current chairperson of the credit union – was among three staff and/or directors who won cars in recent years. Ms Prendergast won a Renault Clio in 2014.

He said: ‘We are a credit union in a small country town and if we excluded all staff, volunteers, directors, family members and connections, the likelihood is that our draw would be smaller than it is at present.

‘We do not accept that there is a conflict of interest because a director, volunteer, staff member or otherwise opts to purchase a ticket in the draw.’ Last night a spokesperson for the Central Bank said:’ The Central Bank’s expectation is that, where a credit union is operating a draw for its members, it will be done in a clear and transparent manner with appropriate systems and controls in place.’

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