The Irish banking system drew the ire of three candidates in the Ireland South European election at a meeting ahead of the Carbery Group AGM in Clonakilty on Tuesday morning.

Describing it as “dysfunctional”, sitting MEP Billy Kelleher said: “It’s almost impossible to get loans for small and medium-sized businesses and for farming. Credit unions, along with merchants and co-ops, were the ones that supported farmers. We’re now running a €16bn industry on credit unions because our pillar banks which were supported and bailed out are still not lending.”

Stating there wasn’t enough competition in the sector, Fine Gael’s John Mullins said: “We don’t have enough competition. Irish banks are not operating on the basis of what I call an open market banking. We need to make it simpler for more banks to come into this market and take on the banks that we have.”

Independent Ireland candidate Eddie Punch also called for more competition.

“There’s a need for more competition because there’s a limit to what credit unions can do unless we have more competition.

“Farmers, small businesses and householders are all at the mercy of banks who have prioritised profit making over providing the service our economy needs,” he said.

Generational renewal, the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), nitrates derogation and export of calves within the EU were among the other issues that were discussed at the event.