9 Beecher Street in Mallow, Co Cork, where Tim O'Sullivan's remains were discovered.Google Street View

The family of Tim O'Sullivan, a 61-year-old man who lay dead in a derelict house in Co Cork for over two decades, has raised concerns that it may not be an isolated incident and has called for a review of Ireland's derelict housing regulations.

O'Sullivan's skeletal remains were discovered in a boarded-up terraced house on Beecher Street in Mallow on January 13, 2023. He is believed to have died in the property between January 9 and 23 in 2001.

O'Sullivan's family said they tried to make contact with him over the years, but after receiving no response, they assumed he had left Ireland for the UK.

O'Sullivan's remains were discovered earlier this year after Cork County Council staff entered the property after the council had received reports of a vermin infestation. 

Paul O’Donoghue of Cork County Council told an inquest on Wednesday, October 25 that he noticed a considerable amount of mail in the property after kicking the door down and said he noticed legs in one of the bedrooms when he was doing a "quick sweep" of the house. 

"I went out to my colleagues on the street and I said 'I’m not 100% sure but I think I saw a body on the bed," O'Donoghue told the recent inquest. 

"They followed me in. We then observed with a lamp that it was a body." 

The remains were later identified as O'Sullivan using dental records.

RTÉ reports that Assistant State Pathologist Dr. Margaret Bolster said that the remains were "totally skeletal except for some mummification." Dr. Bolster said no evidence of trauma or fracture was identified and believes O'Sullivan died "peacefully."

Coroner Dr. Michael Kennedy said that in all probability, O'Sullivan had died in the property on a date unknown between January 9 and 23, 2001.

The estimated timing of O'Sullivan's death was based on a Tesco shopping receipt, his diary entries, and the collection of his social welfare payments. 

O'Sullivan's family told the inquest that they believe no other family should endure what they went through. 

In a statement read during the inquest, Tim's sister Maureen said she and her brother used to write to each other, but when he stopped responding, she assumed he had left Ireland to return to England.

While Tim, the oldest of the family's siblings, was born in Co Kerry, he and his family later emigrated to England.

Tim's sister Noreen, who lives in Australia, said she called to Tim's house in July 2003 but was told by neighbors and gardaí that it was believed that he had moved back to the UK. Noreen said that the house was boarded up and looked like no one was living there.

A missing person report was never filed as the family believed O'Sullivan had left the country.

A statement read at the inquest by solicitor Fiona O'Sullivan on behalf of Tim O'Sullivan's nephew Aidan Shine and the entire O'Sullivan family called for an urgent review of derelict housing regulations in Ireland. 

"As a family, we acknowledge that we should have done more to locate our brother," the family said in the statement.

"We bear the weight of our own regret for not being able to find him earlier and this is something we will carry with us always.

“We do not seek to lay blame, but rather to emphasize to all parties involved that more could have been done.

"We also believe An Garda Síochána and the local authorities involved could have shown more care and due diligence in this matter."

The statement added that the council's decision to board up the house without first carrying out internal checks highlighted the "shortcomings" of Ireland's current regulations for derelict houses. 

They said that the decision "surely concealed the truth" about O'Sullivan's whereabouts for "even longer," adding that they are concerned that this is not an isolated incident. 

"In a nation with over 180,000 derelict properties, we worry that similar cases could remain hidden. We firmly believe the current derelict housing legislation in Ireland is insufficient.

"We advocate for a more compassionate, efficient, and proactive system to prevent future events of this nature." 

Coroner Dr. Michael Kennedy, who returned an open verdict at Wednesday's inquest, said he would be writing to the relevant minister to recommend an urgent review of Ireland's derelict property guidelines. 

"This is a unusual case. (It is) disturbing that a man could lay dead and undiscovered in a house for so long," he said.

He said no cause of death could be determined but said the O'Sullivan family might take some comfort in the fact that there was nothing suspicious about O'Sullivan's death. 

Tim O'Sullivan is survived by his siblings Pat, Noreen, and Maureen. His younger brother Denis died before Tim's body was discovered in January.