Cleric's fury over collapse of society
The Rev Dr Alan Russell
Published Date: 19 December 2008
A SENIOR Presbyterian minister has savaged fellow members for bringing the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) "to its knees".In a stinging rebuke to those members of the Church who withdrew their money in the run on the society's funds, the Rev Dr Alan Russell attacked them for being just as greedy and selfish as anyone else in society and said that they had tarnished the Church's credibility.
Amid growing anger at how £300 million of Presbyterians' money came to be frozen, the Rev Russell, a Presbyterian minister for almost 30 years and Clerk of Ards Presbytery, was damning in his criticism of the Presbyterians who hastily withdrew their money in panic.
Writing in the Presbyterian Herald, the Church's official magazine, Dr Russell said: "This issue is more than financial – it's moral and spiritual.
"The mutual society was formed by Presbyterians, run by Presbyterians, invested in and borrowed from by Presbyterians and brought to its knees by Presbyterians.
"There was no one else involved."
The Ballywalter minister said that Presbyterians had to face up to their central role in the crisis: "In financial terms, the society was as near to a closed system as you can get.
There was no link to the stock market and an absolute undertaking not to speculate with the money.
"In other words, a significant number of people came to the conclusion that it was better to trust the Government than their fellow Presbyterians."
In the closely-argued article, Dr Russell said that the Church's voice on financial matters would be ignored because of how some of its members had acted.
"When it comes to money, the general public will conclude that Presbyterians are just as greedy, insecure, opportunistic, selfish and me-first as anybody in the community," he said.
"Those outside the Church certainly won't take us seriously when we quote what the Bible has to say about money.
"We'll wince with embarrassment as the world dismisses us as hypocrites who secretly sneer along with the Pharisees about the financial naivety of Jesus."
A former convenor of the Presbyterian Ethical Committee and the current convenor of the denomination's Communications Administration Committee, Dr Russell is the first senior Presbyterian to publicly denounce the individuals whose actions caused the crisis.
On November 11, PMS depositors were stopped from withdrawing their money and six days later the society went into administration, with the society's 10,000 depositors told that it would be months before they saw their money.
Yesterday, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said that he had written to Downing Street about the crisis.
The Prime Minister has now received correspondence from senior members of three Northern Ireland parties calling for the Government to guarantee PMS deposits – DUP Finance Minister Nigel Dodds, SDLP leader Mark Durkan and Sir Reg.
Sir Reg said: "In my letter to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, I asked what measures the Government was going to take to secure the investments of those who have been adversely affected."