Date: 17 June 2015
To: The Editor, New York Times
In the aftermath of the tragic accident in Berkeley, resulting in the deaths of six young Irish people and the serious injury of seven others, there has been an outpouring of sympathy across the United States. All the messages we receive strike the same note: deep sadness at these bright young lives cut short, or profoundly affected by injury, and hearts going out to the grieving families.
At such a time, we found some of the language in your article today (“Six Deaths in Berkeley Cast Pall on Program”) both insensitive and inaccurate. No one yet knows what caused the collapse of the fourth-floor balcony; the matter is under urgent investigation by structural engineers. The implication of your article – that the behaviour of the students was in some way a factor in the collapse – has caused deep offence.
It is quite simply wrong to say that the J1 visa programme is “a source of embarrassment for Ireland”. On the contrary, we are fully supportive of this programme and we know that it brings enormous mutual benefit. Some of our best and brightest young people participate; they come for a summer in the US on the threshold of their adult lives, and take back experiences and memories that establish life-long bonds. And they make a real contribution here; one of the messages of condolence we received yesterday put it simply: “We welcome their energy and joy”.
Yes, there have been isolated incidents of the type to which your article refers. But they are wholly unrepresentative: bear in mind that 150,000 young Irish people have participated in the J1 program over the past fifty years, and some 7,000 are here for Summer 2015. From all the feedback we receive, we know that the overwhelming majority of our J1 participants behave in a way that does Ireland proud.
At this time of searing grief, the messages of condolence and offers of support which are flooding in to the Embassy and our Consulates are balm to the soul. They reflect far more accurately the feelings of the American people than does your article.