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Berkeley politician will speak of her ties to Ireland as she asks the California Senate to adjourn in memory of balcony tragedy victims

Senator Loni Hancock speaking at Coláiste Feirste during a visit to Belfast in 2011 Senator Loni Hancock speaking at Coláiste Feirste during a visit to Belfast in 2011
By Staff Reporter

A Berkeley politician with strong ties to Belfast will today ask the California Senate to adjourn in memory of the Irish and Irish-American students who tragically died in the collapse of an apartment house balcony in Berkeley early on Tuesday morning.

Senator Loni Hancock will present her request on the Senate floor at the conclusion of the regular session today at around 8pm our time. Regular Senate business is expected to take about an hour, at which point Senator Hancock will present her request.

Senate proceedings will be streamed live and can viewed through a link on the Senate’s home page:

Senator Hancock will tell the Senate: “Mr. President, I rise to ask the Senate to join me in memorialising the six Irish and Irish-American young people who were lost in the terrible accident in Berkeley during the early hours of Tuesday morning.

 “From Ireland:   Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Nicolai Schuster, 21; Lorcan Miller, 21; and Eimear Walsh, 21. From Rohnert Park:  Irish-American Ashley Donohoe, 22. She and Olivia Burke were cousins.

 “Our hearts go out to their families as well as to the other young people who were seriously injured in the accident.  We pray for their recovery. This tragedy touches every family in Ireland and the horror of it is being felt deeply across that entire country today.

There is a very specific reason for that:  Every Irish family is touched by this horrific incident because these young people were following in a long-running tradition that brings thousands of young Irish people to California every year.

 “They take a break from college to come here on temporary visas offered by the U.S. government to participate in the federal Work Travel programme, which allows students to live and work in this country for up to four months.  In the Bay area, they land summer jobs on Fisherman’s Wharf and in department stores, restaurants and coffee shops throughout the region. They work with and interact with Americans day in and day out.

 “They come to experience American life, learn about American culture and then return to their studies and their country with a better understanding of what America is.  They, in effect, become some of the best ambassadors for this country, which is why so many follow in their footsteps. They return full of hope and idealism and positive feeling about America, which they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

 “As some of you know, I have been involved with Ireland for several years and have travelled there to meet with Irish political and cultural leaders, peace activists and community bridge-builders on both sides of the Irish border. I was always struck by the openness and warmth of the people and their willingness to extend an open hand to those in need and across religious and political boundaries.  Today, we need to extend a loving embrace back to the families of these young people.

 “Berkeley and Ireland have been linked from birth as the city takes its name from Ireland’s Bishop George Berkeley. It pains me that we will now be forever united in an even more profound way as a result of this tragedy: united in sadness and anguish for the loss of these young lives. But let us ensure, in our embrace of their heartbroken families and their grieving nation, that Ireland’s bond with Berkeley and indeed with California will remain a source of solidarity and solace. 

 “I ask the Senate to adjourn in memory of these wonderful young people and their families, and for the people of Ireland.” 

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