Northern Ireland

Judge set to make PMS bail-out ruling on Thursday

PMS name plate
Image caption Thousands of PMS members have been unable to retrieve their savings

The Presbyterian Church is under a moral obligation to donate funds to a rescue package for savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS), the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for the church argued it would be in breach of this duty if it went back on a pledge to contribute to a government-established bail-out.

It is seeking permission to contribute £1m to help thousands who lost access to savings when the PMS went into administration in 2008. A judge is due to give his ruling on Thursday.

The church had to apply to the court because its funds can only be used for charitable purposes.

Legal approval is needed because the access fund it wants to donate to does not have that status.

The Attorney General was also represented at the hearing because he has a duty to protect the public interest in any case involving charities.

A rescue plan totalling more than £200m has been put together including £25m contributions each from the UK and Northern Ireland governments.

A treasury loan of £175m also forms part of the package for PMS savers.

In April last year, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland agreed to contribute £1m.

Counsel for the church told the court on Wednesday this money would come from an available discretionary fund of £1.25m.

Charity law

Sheena Grattan said this was the only available asset which it could use.

Other assets of around £52m are tied up in trusts and property which, under charity law, would be restricted, the court heard.

Ms Grattan said:"There is a moral obligation upon them (the church) because at a special assembly through the democratic process they made a solemn promise to contribute to the rescue package.

"For them now to renege on that commitment would be a breach of their moral obligation."

She added that a direct appeal to fellow Presbyterians for help was now unlikely.

"Some congregations are already struggling in the current economic climate," she said.

"There would also be uncertainty as to how much would be raised."

Further arguments for granting the application were put forward on the basis of expediency.

The judge pointed out that any decision he makes may set a precedent for future charity cases.

Mr Justice Deeny said he would try to give his ruling on Thursday, when the church's general board is also due to meet.

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