"Shame on you" - Former President slams New York Times coverage in letter

McAleese said the New York Times "should be hanging its head in shame"
McAleese said the New York Times "should be hanging its head in shame"

FORMER President Mary McAleese has has written a strongly-worded letter to the New York Times as America's leading newspaper said 'sorry' over a 'crass' article linking the Berkeley deaths to a stereotype of the Irish as drunken party-goers.

"Shame on you," the former President - herself a J1 student in San Francisco in the early 70s - wrote.

But the 'New York Times' says it won't remove the offending article from its website despite the backlash both here and in the USA over it.

The piece, uploaded to the paper's website just hours after the deaths of six students, caused uproar yesterday.

The journalists who wrote the article said the J1 visa programme "that allowed for the exchanges has in recent years become not just a source of aspiration, but also a source of embarrassment for Ireland".

Read: New York Times apologises for insensitive article.

They went on to say the Berkeley deaths came after "a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara".

Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the paper had focused on a "national stereotype" adding: "If that had been victims from any other nation would they have written an article like that? It's disgusting."

Eileen Murphy, vice-president of communications at the newspaper, said the story would stay on the website.

"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," she said.

"It was never our intention to blame the victims and we apologise if the piece left that impression."

But former president McAleese wrote a letter of complaint to the paper it has emerged. Ms McAleese said the New York Times "should be hanging its head in shame at how outrageously and without the remotest evidence it has rushed to judgement on those deaths".

"Shame on you," she added, in a report carried in The Irish Times.

Paul Finnegan, who runs the New York Irish Centre in Queens, also said the article was "highly inappropriate".

"Once again here is an article which plays on the bad stereotypes of Irish people when there are so many good ones.

"The vast, vast majority of people who come to the States on the J1 visa programme are wonderful representatives of Ireland," he said.

"This was a terrible tragedy and the whole of Irish-America is mourning with the families."

Irish Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson has written to the newspaper describing the language in the article as both "insensitive and inaccurate".

"The implication of your article - that the behaviour of the students was in some way a factor in the collapse - has caused deep offence," Ms Anderson said. She also denied that the J1 visa was a "source of embarrassment" for Ireland.

"We are fully supportive of this programme and we know that it brings enormous mutual benefit . . .

"Yes there have been isolated incidents of the type to which your article refers. But they are wholly unrepresentative..."

The American Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley said the J1 programme was one of the cornerstones in ensuring that the strong bond between Ireland and US.

He said the scheme builds on a person-to-person level what governments sometimes cannot do.

Greg Harkin, Irish Independent