People are still joining credit unions but existing members are taking out fewer loans and members are continuing to pay down debt.

The Irish League of Credit Unions - which represents 380 credit unions here - has published figures which show that a total of €1.6 billion in loans was taken out in the year to the end of September.

The loan book is down 10.5% year on year. 

New regulations from the Central Bank restricting lending practices are behind that fall which is hitting credit unions hard because lending is their principle form of earnings.

On the upside, there has been a fall in the value arrears on the loan books, membership is up and savings have increased.

Today's figures show that loans arrears fell to €725m in September - representing 18.5% of total loans. This is down from €847m the same time last year, a fall of €122m year on year. 

Membership is also up by around 20,000, or nearly 1% for the full year to September 2013.

Savings in credit unions increased 1.1% for the year to €10.5 billion.

In a statement, the League of Credit Unions said that last year credit unions paid out an average dividend of 0.96% in the Republic.

"It is too early to say what level of dividends will be paid this year until the year-end audits have run their course, but the vast majority of credit unions will be in a position to pay a dividend to their loyal members," the statement added.

"These figures are indeed reflective of the ongoing economic challenges faced by this country and of course our 3.1 million members", commented the league's chief executive Kieron Brennan. 

He said that credit unions continue to operate responsibly and have increased provisions against bad and doubtful debts. 

"We continue to prioritise provisioning over payment of dividends but we do believe that this is the right decision given the current climate. Credit unions are well reserved and are required to meet a Regulatory Reserve Ratio of 10% by the year end 2013," Mr Brennan said.

The CEO said that "the vast majority" of credit unions have reached this goal already. The number of credit unions in deficit has reduced but loan arrears remain a concern for the movement, he added.