Today marks the first anniversary of the Presbyterian Mutual Society going into administration. Some of us thought that the situation would have been resolved a long time ago, and we are grateful to the Newsletter for its feature on the crisis.
Back in June, we were full of hope. At that stage, it had taken seven months of lobbying and letter-writing to get the attention of the Prime Minister, and to engage the government in the process of addressing the issues affecting so many PMS savers. We thought then that the train was beginning to roll and that it would take us quickly towards a solution. But five months later, we are still waiting. The frustration is immense and while many savers are struggling on. There is real pain and much anxiety in almost every congregation. During my travels around the church in the past six months, many people have told me their stories, and some of them have been heart-breaking. Yet many, in spite of their hardship, have remained calm and patient.
While the Prime Minister’s Working Group was set up in June, it really didn’t get going properly until September, the month in which we had been promised a draft report. At times the noises have been encouraging. It was clear from the outset, if a disastrous second vote by was to be avoided, that the involvement of the Treasury and other financial institutions in any proposed solution was necessary. As we write, we are assured that this route is being fully explored and we are told that a number of banks are engaged in discussions. For that, we are thankful and hopeful, but it seems to be a very slow process. If rescue plans for savers with such financial bodies as the Dunfermline Building Society could apparently be put together in a weekend, why are we having to wait so long?
One of the benefits of the devolved administration at Stormont is that we have been able to meet directly with officials and ministers involved in the decision-making process. Everyone we have spoken to has been aware of the integrity of our case, and has been supportive. As well as meeting Northern Ireland Ministers, the church has been constantly active in verbal and written submissions to the Government, in correspondence and in meetings with the Secretary of State.
What the decision-makers in both Stormont and Westminster need to realise is that concern about the PMS situation stretches far wider than its 9,500 savers. Every member of every congregation who has contributed to funds which have been deposited with the PMS is anxious about this crisis and seeks a positive outcome. During the most difficult and dark days of our recent history, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has provided stability and cohesion. Failure to resolve this crisis successfully will create waves and ripples that will have a widespread negative impact. Building confidence in this community requires that the PMS situation be resolved positively and quickly.