Credit where it’s due

women in the workplace A series by Carmel Kelly Palmer Norrie Mooney looks composed, confident and comfortable at her desk in the impressive modern office building in Castlerea. Her position as Manager of the Credit Union is indeed a responsible one, embracing a large membership of approximately 6,500. She tells how it all began for her. ‘In October 1986 a local man, Anthony Waldron, from Ballintubber, asked a group of approximately 20 people from different backgrounds to come together to see if we could form a credit union in the town. Our office opened in May 1987 in the Town Trust building. We conducted business two evenings per week, Friday and Saturday, and in 1992 we purchased an old public house belonging to Eddie and Esther Kelly. We renovated and refurbished this building.’ ‘In 2002 we saw an opportunity to purchase an old house which we demolished and built the beautiful office you now see today. It was officially opened by John Hume in 2005.’ Three full time and four part-time staff are employed in the credit union. Norrie was brought up in a family business background. Her father was Tom Garvey, a well-known businessman in the village of Ballintubber. He conducted a hardware, grocery, bar and funeral undertaking business as far back as 1941. From an early age, Norrie was enveloped and surrounded by many different forms of business. Norrie spoke about her schooling. ‘I attended St Bride’s School, Ballintubber and was then sent as a boarder to the Convent of Mercy, Castlebar. At that time parents thought it very noble of them to pack you off to boarding school. There was no discussion about it.’ When she left school she went for a year to a commercial business school in Kiltimagh. ‘In those days we were prepared as potential candidates for a banking career. From there I moved to Athenry, working in the Ulster Bank for four years up until I married.’ At that time there were strict regulations forcing women to give up their employment at the time of marriage and so Norrie had to give up her job and stay at home. ‘In 1968 we moved from Sligo, where Des my husband worked for the Department of Agriculture, to Castlerea. Here he got a job as a representative for the pharmaceutical company Leo Laboratories.’ For Norrie it was a homecoming, back to her hometown of Castlerea and only a few miles away from her birth village of Ballintubber. ‘When married women could take their place in the workforce, I was approached by a friend who asked me to work as a substitute teacher and this I did for a number of years and enjoyed it. It suited me, as my children were quite young at the time. When my youngest child went to college I applied for a job in the Bank in Glenamaddy. I stayed working there for five years.’ Norrie’s children have all now left home.  Her eldest son is Doctor of Music in the Conservatory of Music and is Head of a Department there. Her other son has a landscape business in Ballinlough and her daughter is Doctor of Nutrition and lectures in St Angela’s College, Sligo. I asked Norrie the main difference between the Banks and the Credit Union. ‘Today banking is all about sales and targets. The Credit Union is totally based on its members. It is a completely different financial institution.’ The idea behind the Credit Union is that people could pool their money and make loans to each other. It is the Credit Union idea and evolved from the co-operative activities of early 19th century Europe. The first of these co-operatives was a marketing co-operative established in 1844 by a group of workers in Rochdale, England. That same year in Germany, Victor Aime Huber began developing and publicising some of the early European co-operative theories. The idea of credit societies was a part of this effort. Moved by the crop failure and famine that had devastated Germany in 1846 -1847, Herman Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen created the first true credit unions in the mid 19th century. After organising a co-operatively owned mill and bakery, Schulze-Delitzsch founded the first ‘people’s bank’ in 1852 to provide credit to entrepreneurs in the city. Raiffeisen had established a credit society in Flammersfeld, Germany in 1849, that depended on the charity of wealthy men for its support. He remained committed to that concept until 1864, when he organised a new credit union for farmers alongside the principles of co-operative interdependence, a community-first mentality and a volunteer management structure that are still fundamental today. Over the years credit unions spread to communities around the world.  The Credit Union movement was established in Ireland in 1958 when Nora Herilhy co-founded the first Credit Union on Donore Avenue, Dublin 8. Norrie deals with the day-to-day running of the office. She talked about her various functions. ‘I would spend a lot of time interviewing people. It could be for anything from a business loan, car loan, insurance. We deal with PRSA now, foreign currency, drafts. I would constantly check the repayment schedules and follow up where necessary. There are monthly returns which go to the Board of Directors and quarterly ones, financial statistics, which are passed on to the Financial Regulator.’ I asked her what would be their busiest day. ‘Thursday and Friday would be busy, because Thursday is Social Security day and Friday Pension day, so this brings an influx of people to the town. Friday would be the main shopping day when people come in sometimes for the whole day. Monday can also be quite busy as it is Mart day.’ She described how she sees the Credit Union as an organisation. ‘We now have approximately 600 Credit Union offices (north and south) which are member-owned. It is a voluntary self-help co-operative financial institution, serving the financial needs of the community. Today we provide products and services to all income groups and the fact that we have over 6,000 members speaks for itself. ‘The most distinctive characteristic of the Credit Union is that it is a non-profit organisation unlike other financial institutions. Any surplus monies belonging to our members is given back in different forms i.e. dividends. We serve a large cross-section of the community, business people, farmers, the unemployed. The people themselves own the Credit Union and are, therefore, entitled to get the best from it.’ Norrie explained that they are not linked in the same way as are the Banks. Each branch works independently. ‘A familiar term is ‘common bond area’, which, means simply, that you go to the office where you live or work. This may change in the future.’ She took me on a tour of the offices, which are ultra-modern. The building was designed by Murray and Associates of Carrick-on-Shannon who made excellent use of glass, creating an abundance of light and spaciousness. Within the building is a very welcoming reception and office area. There is an interview room, a computer room, toilets. Upstairs there is a state-of-the-art boardroom and dotted along the walls are some of Norrie’s paintings, among them a beautiful snow scene captured in the Demesne, Castlerea. There is a staff canteen, kitchen, and shower rooms. Norrie and her family admit that she ‘eats and sleeps’ in the Credit Union! ‘I just love my job. It has become so much a part of my life. I was there from the inception and moved along and grew with it. This is probably why I don’t find it daunting. Every facet of it is now so familiar to me. I’ve seen some changes and have taken them on board.’ But Norrie Mooney does of course go home and she talks about her favourite job there. ‘Two or three nights a week about 7 or 8 o’clock I go out to the kitchen and start baking until bed time. I really enjoy making bread and cakes, eating most of them myself or giving them away! Sometimes I go to Thai Chi and I enjoy swimming and walking.’ She can also leave the Credit Union behind and happily head off at weekends to locations like Cavan, Galway, Westport and further afield to such destinations as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lanzarote, Paris, Venice. She returns once again to her favourite place where she ‘eats and sleeps’, her office in the Credit Union building in the town of Castlerea!