Dáil adjourns as a mark of respect to six Berkeley dead

TDs stood for minute’s silence before House suspended for two hours

Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan (left) is to Berkeley in California at the request of the Taoiseach following the deaths of six Irish students. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin paid tribute in the Dáil to the work of  Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan since the incident occurred yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times.

Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan (left) is to Berkeley in California at the request of the Taoiseach following the deaths of six Irish students. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin paid tribute in the Dáil to the work of Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan since the incident occurred yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times.

 

The names of the five Irish and one Irish-American student killed in Berkeley, California when a balcony collapsed, were read into the Dáil record six times on Wednesday before the House was adjourned as a mark of respect.

Each of the political party leaders recited their names - Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Ashley Donohoe, Niccolai Schuster, Olivia Burke and Lorcan Miller, as they spoke of the tragedy.

TDs stood for a minute’s silence before the House was suspended for two hours.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he would send Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan to San Francisco, “as a symbol of solidarity from the people of Ireland..... to be there as a presence of the Irish Government” and “not in anyway to draw from the great activity of the Consul General Philip Grant”.

The Department’s helpline has received some 500 calls and the Consul General has established an incident centre in Berkeley City Hall.

Mr Kenny said: “The flag of our country flies at half mast as a mark of respect and sympathy to the bereaved.

“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.”

He said it had such an impact on the immediate families and the many thousands of J1 students and their families.

The level of support being provided through the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue and the need for specialist counselling, advice and support if necessary would continue as well, he said.

Sympathy for families

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, calling for the supports to be maintained, said that “every Irish family is thinking about the families of the students who were killed so tragically in Berkeley yesterday”.

He said he wanted to acknowledge the “excellent work of Minister Charlie Flanagan and his team at the Department of Foreign Affairs who have a long tradition and reputation of looking after the Irish abroad when the need arises”. His praise was echoed by all party leaders.

Mr Martin said it was important, “particularly after the initial period of shock, profound disbelief and sadness passes that the need for ongoing special supports and exceptional level of support continues” and “for those who are injured and in hospital, that their medical needs would continue to be watched and monitored”.

He cited comments from US ambassador Kevin O’Malley who said the J1 programme “is the essential ingredient in continuing, sustaining and flourishing relationships between Ireland and the United States, which is a unique relationship”.

Tánaiste Joan Burton said there were no words for the families’ loss. She expressed her deepest sympathies to the affected families.

Right of passage

Ms Burton, a former J1 student, said it was meant to be a right of passage. “It is for a lot of people the summer of love, the summer of fun.”

“Today those six families are heart broken, their children are wrenched from them.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said it was a stark reminder of the fragility of life. He said the tragedy was a parent’s worst nightmare.

He noted that one of the six students Ashley Donohoe was from Santa Rosa in San Francisco and a cousin of an Irish student who died Olivia Burke.

Independent TD Finian McGrath, representing the technical group, said those living in the northside of Dublin had the same feeling when the Stardust tragedy of decades ago occurred.

“You think of young people taken away in a flash by a very, very horrific incident,’’ he added.

Mr McGrath said losing somebody close to you was a very, very difficult.

“But when you lose a young person, in a matter of seconds, it is just every parent’s nightmare,’’ he added. “And many of us are feeling that today.’’

He commended Mr Flanagan and the Irish consulate for the excellent job done in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Renua Ireland leader Lucinda Creighton, speaking for the non-aligned TDs, said the young people involved had gone to the United States a few weeks ago expecting to live the dream and it had turned into a nightmare.

“We want to offer our deepest sympathy and hope that the families will feel some sense of solace from the genuine outpouring of grief across the country,’’ she added. “It really is heartfelt.’’

Before TDs stood for a minute’s silence Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett suggested there should be an ecumenical service in the chamber for TDs and Senators.