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Ireland Mourns Berkeley Student Deaths, as New York Times Apologizes for 'Insensitive' Coverage

Five Irish students and one American were killed on Tuesday after they fell from a collapsed fourth floor balcony in Berkeley, California. Seven others remain in hospital.
June 17, 2015, 5:40pm
Photo by Peter Dasilva/EPA

Flags hung at half-mast in Ireland today in mourning for six students killed when a balcony collapsed in California — while the New York Times apologized for "insensitive" reporting of the tragedy, which sparked fury across the Atlantic and on social media.

Late on Tuesday night the victims in the incident — when a fourth floor balcony collapsed during a 21st birthday party in Berkeley — were named as Ashley Donoghue, 22, Olivia Burke, 21, Eoghan Culligan, 21, Niccolai Schuster, 21, Lorcan Miller, 21, and Eimear Walsh, 21.


While five of those who died were Irish, the sixth — Ashley Donoghue — was an American citizen, believed to be Olivia Burke's cousin.

Flags fly at half mast over Iveagh House as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives in — IrishForeignMinistry (@dfatirl)June 17, 2015

Meanwhile, mass criticism was leveled at the New York Times for their coverage — labeled as "sneering and stereotype-laden" and "victim-blaming." The US newspaper had written that the deaths had cast a "pall" on the J1 visa program most of the students were traveling under, that young people making similar trips are a "source of embarrassment for Ireland," and seemed to draw links between Tuesday's accident and completely unrelated incidents of destruction carried out by Irish students in the US.

Aodhan O'Riordain, Ireland's minister for new communities, equality, and culture, tweeted in protest at the reporting, calling it a "disgrace," as did Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

.— Aodhán ?June 17, 2015

Disappointing — Martin McGuinness (@M_McGuinness_SF)June 17, 2015

In a statement, the New York Times apologized, saying: "We understand and agree that some of the language in the piece could be interpreted as insensitive, particularly in such close proximity to this tragedy. It was never our intention to blame the victims and we apologize if the piece left that impression."

This release came after Margaret Sullivan, the newspaper's public editor, tweeted in response to the barrage of complaints, saying that she would "look into it."


Sincere sympathy to all affected by — Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview)June 17, 2015

O'Riordain later responded again, calling the newspaper's statement "pathetic."

At least 13 young people are believed to have been on the balcony when it collapsed for reasons that are still unclear but appear to be structural. Seven still remain in hospital and are undergoing treatment.

The students had only recently arrived in the US, where they were planning on spending the summer. California is a popular destination for Irish university students.

Addressing the assembled MPs in the Irish parliament on Wednesday morning, Irish Taoiseach (equivalent to prime minister) Enda Kenny asked: ""When you look at the papers this morning don't you see the faces of your own children, sons and daughters, at the start of a great adventure in life?" Irish parliamentarians then stood for a minute of silence before adjourning as a "mark of respect."

The Mayor of Galway opened a book of condolence, as did University College Dublin in the capital city's south — attended by three of the deceased students.

In a statement, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said that the government was "continu[ing] to provide practical support and assistance to the bereaved, the injured and the students affected."

Family members of the deceased and injured would be met at the airport by a team from the Irish consulate in San Francisco, Flanagan said.

"Our consulate in San Francisco is working with the local authorities and Irish community organisations to provide transport and accommodation to those who need it. I would like to thank the Irish community in San Francisco, local residents, and the local authorities, all of whom have generously offered assistance and support to those affected by this devastating accident."

Related: Ireland Just Became the First Country to Approve Gay Marriage by a Popular Vote

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd