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Family of former journalist found dead on eviction day still looking for answers

Bríd Cummins was due to be evicted from her Galway home on the day her body was found.

Bríd Cummins complained to Galway City Council about conditions in her flat several times in the months before her death.
Bríd Cummins complained to Galway City Council about conditions in her flat several times in the months before her death.
Image: Courtesy of Connacht Tribune

OVER A DECADE after her death, Bríd Cummins’ family are still struggling to come to terms with her untimely passing.

Bríd, a 48-year-old former journalist and charity worker, was due to be evicted from her Galway council home on the day her body was found.

It was December 2004 and Galway City Council had just rejected her appeal to spend one final Christmas in the flat.

Bríd had committed to vacating the property voluntarily as long as she was allowed to stay there until the end of the month, but the council refused her request, ordering her to move out by noon on 6 December.

An inquest the following year found she had died of a heart attack after taking a lethal combination of prescribed drugs.

But it was only last June, when former council official Julie Grace published a book on Bríd’s long struggle against the local authority, that her family learned the full extent of the challenges she faced in the final months of her life.

Grace was a tenant liaison officer in 2003 when she says she was asked to accompany Bríd’s neighbour, an elderly man, to the offices of the council’s solicitors so that he could make a statement on a dispute they were having.

“I questioned the legality of it. That service shouldn’t have been offered to him as a private citizen,” she told TheJournal.ie.

Six months later, Galway City Council had begun legal proceedings to evict Bríd on account of her alleged anti-social behaviour, but Grace refused to sign off on a statement by a former neighbour that was to be used as evidence, judging it to be an unreliable account.

The judge handling the case had also not been given access to a file detailing Bríd’s mental health issues, she said, adding that the eviction order might never have been issued had the court been aware of the extent of the tenant’s illness.

After Bríd’s death, it emerged that the council had instructed crisis housing agency Cope not to provide her with alternative accommodation.

Bríd's family remember her as a bright, sensitive woman. Source: Courtesy of Connacht Tribune

Unanswered questions

Grace’s book was “an astonishing revelation” to Bríd’s brother, Paddy, who says his sister never spoke to the family about her problems with Galway City Council, save for the occasional mention of home repair issues.

Nearly two years before her death, a structural engineer had deemed the flat potentially dangerous to live in, but the council refused to fund renovations, claiming the residence complied with regulations, Paddy said.

He believes the council felt threatened by his sister after she initiated legal action over the condition of the property in the summer of 2003 – a challenge he suspects was a motivating factor in eviction proceedings against her.

“She was very thorough in the way she did her business and that got up somebody’s nose – it challenged someone. They didn’t like someone firing back as well as they could fire,” he said.

Paddy, now a trained bereavement counsellor, thinks the council still has questions to answer about the way his sister was treated.

He said his family have never received an apology from or been invited to meet council officials.

“We found Bríd’s death very difficult to come to terms with, as any family would,” he told TheJournal.ie.

You’re left with the whys, what ifs and everything else that goes on in your head when someone close is taken so suddenly.

On reading Grace’s book, Paddy said he relived that trauma all over again, but this time with an understanding of the extent to which “the entire system had stacked up” against his sister.

He remembers her as a bright, sensitive woman who kept her business to herself.

She warmed very easily to people. She had this soft, friendly approach to life, and she was very articulate, like her dad.
She was a smashing person.

Galway City Council had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

A spokesperson for the council told the Connacht Tribune earlier this year that it would be making no further statements in response to queries on the matter.

Read: In adult hospital wards, children with mental health issues face ‘extreme distress’

Read: Robin Williams’ widow says they were ‘living a nightmare’ in the months before his death

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Catherine Healy

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