Flanagan: 'NY Times' piece on tragedy 'out of order'
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has slammed the controversial 'New York Times' article on the Berkeley tragedy, describing it as "callous, insensitive and totally out of order".
The article, which in its second paragraph said the J1 visa programme had become a "national embarrassment", has drawn a furious response from the minister with direct responsibility for the Government's response to the tragedy.
"It was out of order in absolute terms. I haven't commented on the matter until now because I was concentrating on the consular programme.
"The article was totally insensitive, completely out of order. It was (a) most inaccurate, insensitive and callous portrayal of Irish students against the background of this dreadful tragedy," Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent.
The Laois/Offaly TD said he was informed of the tragedy by his officials in San Francisco very quickly after it happened.
He felt it was important to confirm the grim news publicly at the earliest possible opportunity to stop the spreading of any speculation as to the circumstances of the tragedy.
"I felt it was entirely appropriate to make the announcement as soon as I could, that there be no vacuum during which speculation and anxiety would have been further heightened," he said.
But in addition to ensuring the public knew as early as possible, Mr Flanagan revealed how his department officials attempted to cope with this "unprecedented tragedy".
Within a couple of hours of the news coming in, the minister and his staff in Molesworth Street were taking phone calls. "There were in excess of 500 during the course of Tuesday afternoon," he said. He said his staff were flooded by calls from anxious parents wondering as to the well-being of their sons and daughters who were in the San Francisco area.
"From this end we were taking the calls, reassuring," he said.
Those people who called in and found out that their loved ones had been either killed or injured in the balcony collapse were then directed to separate telephone lines and they were aided by staff.