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Family calls for review of derelict properties law after man lay undiscovered in Co Cork house for over 20 years

The family of a man (61), who died and lay undiscovered for over 20 years in a derelict house, have called on the government to review current derelict housing legislation to ensure that no family goes through the trauma and upset that they have endured.

The family of Timothy O’Sullivan, whose largely skeletal remains were found in his boarded-up house at Beecher Street in Mallow in North Cork on January 13th last, said that they were deeply concerned that their brother and uncle could remain undiscovered there for over 20 years.

The inquest into Mr O’Sullivan’s death heard he died sometime in January 2001. The house was subsequently boarded up and he lay undiscovered until Cork County Council staff went into the property in January 2023 in advance of Rentokill being sent in to rid it of vermin.

Mr O’Sullivan’s nephew Aidan Shine said in a statement, read at the inquest that, as a family, they acknowledged they could have done more to locate their brother, but they also believed An Garda Síochána and Cork County Council could have shown more care and due diligence in the matter.


“The decision to board up the house without conducting internal checks highlights one of the main shortcomings in the current derelict property processes, and surely concealed the truth about our brother’s whereabouts for even longer,” said Mr Shine in the statement.

“We do not seek to lay blame but rather to emphasise to all parties involved that more could have been done. Moreover, we are deeply concerned that his tragedy may not be an isolated incident. In a nation with over 180,000 derelict properties, we worry that similar cases could remain hidden.”

Mr Shine said in the statement, read on his behalf by his solicitor, Fiona O’Sullivan, that he and his family believe that both the current legislation on derelict properties and Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) process allowing councils to take over derelict properties were insufficient.

Sister of man whose skeletal remains were found in Mallow house had gone to property looking for him ]

Human remains found in boarded-up house in Cork may have been there over 20 years ]

The inquest heard from John O’Dell of Cork County Council that he first became aware of issues regarding the house in Beecher Street in December 2014, when local councillor John Paul O’Shea contacted him about a broken window at the house and asked could the council establish who owned it.

The council was not able to establish ownership as it was not recorded at the Land Registry, so the council began treating it as a derelict property. In January 2015, the property was boarded up by council staff “who had no reason or authority to enter the property” when boarding it up, he said.

On January 13th last, on foot of complaints about vermin in the property, council staff went to change the locks on the house so that Rentokill could gain access to the building, and that was when Mr O’Sullivan’s remains were discovered, the inquest heard.

Council employee Paul O’Donoghue told how he was forced to kick in the door after having difficulty drilling the lock and he noticed a pile of post and brochures almost 25cm deep just inside the door. He decided to carry out a sweep or check of the house, and found the deceased’s body in a bedroom.

Sgt Eileen Kelly told the inquest she carried out an examination of documents found in the house after the remains were removed and found a passport, birth certificate and driving licence, as well as an ESB bill all in the name of Timothy O’Sullivan, together with the cash equivalent in punts of €8,000.

She also found a diary entry in which Mr O’Sullivan said he was going to Tesco’s on January 9th, 2001, and she found a receipt from Tesco on that date confirming the visit. She also found a Social Welfare Card in the name of Timothy O’Sullivan so she contacted the Department of Social Protection.

Sgt Kelly said that the Department of Social Protection was able to confirm that Mr O’Sullivan was in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance from October 4th, 2000, to January 23rd, 2001, when the claim closed automatically as Mr O’Sullivan had failed to collect three payments in a row.

Mr O’Sullivan’s sister Maureen said in a statement to gardaí that she had never visited her brother’s house in Beecher St after he moved from the UK to Mallow. She used to write to him and he used to reply, but the letters stopped around 1992 and she presumed he had moved back to the UK.

Mr O’Sullivan’s other sister, Noreen Foster, told gardaí she called to her brother’s house in Mallow on July 24th, 2003, when on a visit back to Ireland from Australia. She received no answer when she knocked and she looked in the window, and it appeared no one had been living there for a while.

She spoke to a neighbour who said she hadn’t seen her brother since Christmas and people in a local pub also said they hadn’t seen him with a while. She called to Mallow Garda Station where a garda told her that he presumed her brother had gone to the UK where another brother lived.

The inquest heard evidence that Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margot Bolster had to use dental records to confirm Mr O’Sullivan’s identity. The desiccated state of his largely skeletal remains suggested he was dead a long time, and she was not able to determine the cause of death.

Coroner for North Cork, Dr Michael Kennedy said it was a distressing case but if it was of any comfort to Mr O’Sullivan’s family, Dr Bolster could find no evidence of trauma at post-mortem and everything suggested he had passed away peacefully in his bed sometime between January 9th and 23rd, 2001.

He extended his sympathies to Mr O’Sullivan’s family on their sad loss and he promised to forward their statement calling for a review of derelict housing legislation to the relevant Government departments. Insp Paul Ahern expressed his condolences on behalf of An Garda Siochana.