Irish students Berkeley deaths
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, CaliforniaReuters

The New York Times has come under attack for its coverage of the Berkeley balcony collapse in which six Irish college students died.

A report in the renowned US paper said the work-visa program that facilitates the arrival of Irish students to the West coast had become "a source of embarrassment for Ireland", tainted by episodes of "drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara".

The paper then goes on to narrate the events that saw Ashley Donohoe, Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh lose their lives after a fourth-floor balcony collapsed during a party at the University of California Berkeley. They were all 21 or 22.

Later, it cites a column for The Irish Voice written in 2014 by Cahir O'Doherty expressing distress at "the callous destruction unleashed by these loaded Irish students" at a house in San Francisco.

"They ripped chandeliers from the ceilings, they broke doors and they smashed windows; they even punched holes in the walls," he wrote. "Then they abandoned the place without a heads-up or a word of apology."

The link between the "raucous life" in a college town and the deaths caused a furious reaction by Ireland's minister of state for equality:

The minister said that it would be the right thing "to withdraw that report and apologise". "We have six Irish people who are now dead as a result of a tragedy because a balcony collapsed. No other reason," she said. "The nature and tone of the article is a disgrace ... newspaper editors need to realise how sensitive this issue is."

The New York Times article also came under fire on Twitter, with people lambasting the report as shameful and insensitive:

The Twitter storm triggered a response from the New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan:

Five of the Irish students were in the country on a J-1 visa program for the summer to work and travel. Many of the 750 Irish students in the Bay Area visiting with the visas this summer are working in restaurants in San Francisco and at Fisherman's Wharf.

An investigation has been launched by authorities into the safety of the balconies. The Library Gardens apartments, where the tragedy occurred, is in downtown Berkeley, surrounded by museums, restaurants, coffee shops and chain stores just blocks from the university.