I was very sad to hear of the death of Niamh Bhreathnach. I have known her for over thirty years. I was lucky to benefit from the free third-level education that she brought in under the Labour/Fianna Fail coalition. I first met her when I was campaigning for transport.
I had just finished a repeat Leaving Certificate course in the college for people with disabilities in Sandymount. This course was not fully recognised by the Department of Education. Therefore, I couldn’t get the door-to-door transport that I had enjoyed in primary and secondary school [even though the college was on the way to my previous school]. After three months of my parents having to bring me to and from college and my campaigning through newspapers, radio and TV, transport was eventually arranged to and from the college. It’s important to mention I was not just campaigning for myself, but other students as well.
My original choice was to go University College Dublin, because both my sister and brother had studied there. But, because of the transport issue, I decided to go Trinity College instead, as it is on the Dublin rail line.
However, I still went to meet Niamh Bhreathnach In May or June of 1993, as I was in her constituency. I was very nervous when I went to see her, but I needn’t have been so tense. She was very warm and open and willing to listen to my issues. “You seem to have fallen between two stools,” she said, hearing how I’d been eligible for general second-level transport and then not eligible for transport to the extra second-level school.
Before I left, she promised to look into the situation and find a way of solving the problem for me and other students as they went forward to third-level education. She was true to her words, creating a fund of twenty thousand Irish pounds for students to obtain the services that would help students with disabilities, or indeed any equipment they might need to help them with their studies. This continued into the future.
Her involvement with me did not stop there when I moved into my own house in Dun Laoghaire. She continued to be very helpful on many issues. For example, when I rang her about a rent payment issue, she had the County Council put in a sentence in their letter to Council tenants about yearly rental changes. This was to remind people to notify their bank of any changed rent amount automatically debited from their account.
Even after she retired, any time we would meet she would give me a cheerful hello. She was instrumental in my joining the Labour Party in 2003. In conclusion, she was a person who cared about people in a really special way and cared about social justice. She will be deeply missed by me and by all those whom she helped during her life both politically and, I am sure, privately as well.