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Family says woman ‘demonised and criminalised’ by Council

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Paddy Cummins remembers like it was yesterday the afternoon he got a phone call to say his sister, Bríd, had taken her own life.

It was December 6, 2004, and Paddy was at work at the C&C Group in Clonmel town where he was operations manager. Angela, his older sister, broke the news.

“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. I thought it was a joke. I rang Bríd every week. I visited her every couple of weeks. We were best buddies because we were nearest in age. I was stunned,” says Paddy, in his first ever interview about the death which sparked controversy.

With suicide there are always more questions than answers. But this was different – and the Cummins family believes her death was preventable.

Bríd, a former journalist, who had mental health issues, fought eviction by Galway City Council from the council house she was living in. The Council had secured an eviction order against her in November 2004. She appealed the decision but was willing to leave voluntarily if she could stay for Christmas. The Council refused and according to the court order she was to vacate the property on December 6, 2004.

Housing agency COPE said it was instructed by the Council not to provide crisis accommodation for the 48-year-old. On that date she was found dead in her flat in Munster Avenue when officials turned up to get back the house keys from her. The tragedy is known as the Bríd Cummins Affair and is regarded as a stain on the city.

“For someone to die in the circumstances that she did was a huge trauma and everybody knows that that type of death (suicide) is a huge tragedy on its own but to have so many avenues and negatives connected with it makes it 100 times worse,” he said.

The Cummins’ family have always felt that the local authority did not act in a professional manner in the way they dealt with Bríd. That assertion has been strengthened by details in the book ‘Abuse of Power: Because Councils Can’ by author and Council whistleblower, Julie Grace. The book published last year, which charts the story of Bríd and how she was treated by the Council, revealed new evidence of the affair that the family wasn’t aware of.

The family believes the Council fabricated an anti-social behaviour case against their sister and criminalised her. “Bríd didn’t get a fair hearing,” says Paddy. “My whole beef with the Council is they demonised her and they criminalised her. We feel she got a raw deal. They took away her name; they took away her character.”

He called on the executive of Galway City Council to ‘do the decent thing’. “What we’re looking for is an apology and the restoration of her name. The apology is for the lack of professionalism and dignity in the way she was treated. They need to recognise the fact that they could have handled it a lot more professionally with more dignity and humanity because, in effect, they criminalised a single, young woman to justify throwing her out of the house.”

The Cummins family felt they were treated “appallingly” when arriving at Galway Garda Station on the day of Bríd’s death, and by Council officials when they visited Munster Avenue. But, by and large, they are overwhelmed by, and grateful for, the support from the people of Galway, including friends of Bríd.

Paddy appeals to Galway City Councillors to play their part in bringing closure. “Leave the politics to one side. This is a humanitarian case. We are an ordinary family that never hurt anyone in our lives. All we are expecting from the elected representatives and the executive is to step back from the stubbornness and take a humanitarian look at this.”

And as for the cynics who might snipe from the sidelines and claim that the family’s motives aren’t pure, Paddy insists: “We’re absolutely not on a witch-hunt. That’s not who we are. We have made that clear. My family and I have no interest in revenge . . . If I was out to get money from the Council all I have to do is go to a solicitor and take an action. But that’s not what it’s about. That won’t bring back my sister. All we are interested in is my sister is not a criminal, was never a criminal – she didn’t have a criminal bone in her body.”

Connacht Tribune

Unauthorised developments in County Galway go unchecked for months

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The Planning Enforcement Section of Galway County Council is so understaffed that complaints of unauthorised developments are not being investigated for months, the Connacht Tribune has learned.

In one case, a complaint alleging a house was under construction in a picturesque and environmentally sensitive part of Conamara without planning permission was not investigated by the Council for at least six months.

And it can be revealed that there is a ‘large’ backlog of complaints of unauthorised developments in the county, which the Planning Enforcement Section at County Hall has blamed on staff shortages, according to correspondence obtained by the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

In response to repeated requests by a concerned member of the public to intervene and investigate an allegation of unauthorised development in an environmentally protected area of Conamara, the Council’s Planning Department indicated it was too stretched.

“Unfortunately, the planning enforcement section is experiencing a period of prolonged staff shortages and consequently there are a large number of files awaiting investigation/review,” it said.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Access Centre provides pathways to University of Galway for the disadvantaged

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Photo of Imelda Byrne

Great leaps have been made in recent years to make access to tertiary level education a realistic prospect for once marginalised groups in society.

With the deadline for CAO applications approaching next week, the Access Centre at the University of Galway is aiming to reach as many underrepresented groups as possible ahead of next academic term.

Head of the Access Centre, Imelda Byrne (pictured), said research has shown that those who once felt third level ‘wasn’t for them’ are increasing their presence at UG, and bringing a richness to the sector that had for a long time been missing.

In the five years up to 2021, there was a 100% increase in the number of students registering for the Disability Support Service at the university, while those coming from Further Education and Training courses in institutes like GTI had surged by 211% over four years.

“The message that we really need to get out there is that the CAO is not the only route into third level. There are a number of pathways,” says Imelda.

“There are loads of places set aside for students coming from a place of disadvantage,” she continues, whether it’s national schemes such as the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) for socio-economic disadvantage; or the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE); or the university’s own programme for mature students.

Those places are there to ensure those from all backgrounds get an opportunity to reach their education potential, tapping into hugely talented groups that once may have missed that opportunity.

“What we have seen is that when they get that opportunity, they do just as well if not better than other students,” continues Imelda.

For HEAR and DARE scheme applicants, and for those hoping to begin higher education as a mature student, next Wednesday’s CAO deadline is critically important.

But beyond the CAO applications, the Access Programme will open up in March to guide prospective students, whatever challenges they are facing, into third level.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway County Council ‘missing out on millions’ in derelict sites levies

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Photo of Cloonabinnia House

Galway County Council is missing out on millions of euro in untapped revenue due to a failure to compile a complete Derelict Sites Register.

That’s according to Galway East Sinn Féin representative, Louis O’Hara, who this week blasted the news that just three properties across the whole county are currently listed on the register.

As a result, Mr O’Hara said the Derelict Sites Levy was not being utilised effectively as countless crumbling properties remained unregistered – the levy amounts to 7% of the market value of the derelict property annually.

The former general election candidate said Galway County Council was ill-equipped to compile a proper list of derelict sites and called on Government to provide the necessary resources to tackle the scourge of dereliction across.

“There are still only three properties listed on Galway County Council’s Derelict Sites Register . . . anyone in Galway knows that this does not reflect the reality on the ground and more must be done to identify properties, and penalise owners who fail to maintain them,” said Mr O’Hara.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the Council failed to collect any of the levies due to them in 2021.

“This is deeply concerning when we know that dereliction is a blight on our communities. Derelict sites attract rats, anti-social behaviour and dumping, and are an eyesore in many of our local towns and villages.”

“The Derelict Sites Levy should be used as a tool by local authorities to raise revenue that can then be utilised to tackle dereliction, but they are not adequately resourced to identify and pursue these property owners,” said Mr O’Hara.

(Photo: The former Cloonabinnia House Hotel is on the Derelict Sites Register).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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