A petition calling for a referendum on the impeachment of embattled University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) President Katie Ascough has gained enough signatures in just one day to trigger a vote on her future.
The success of the petition means that, in a matter of weeks, students in UCD will be called on to decide whether to vote to remove a president who, just last week, was accused of breaking the union’s pro-choice mandate after spending €8,000 removing information about abortion from UCDSU’s freshers’ guide.
The group of students who collected the signatures, calling for the referendum, are not involved in UCDSU or members of the campaign group UCD for Choice. However, since launching the petition, the group, who received support from UCD for Choice, has quickly surpassed the 1,000 student signatures necessary to trigger a referendum. Under UCDSU’s constitution, the signatures of 3.5 per cent of students are needed to initiate a referendum.
They have 1,400 signatures and the petitions are still circulating, the group said.
Having gained the signatures, the students will be handing them into the returning officer of UCDSU, who will announce a date for a referendum that will see students vote whether or not to impeach Ascough. The date, as per the union’s constitution, is expected to fall between October 12th and October 26th. For the impeachment referendum to pass, a simple majority is needed from a voter turnout of no less than 10 per cent of students.
Speaking to The University Times over Facebook, Amy Crean, a spokesperson for Impeach UCDSU President, said that she was “very pleased with the success of the first day” of gathering names.
Impeach UCDSU President is the group of 20 UCD students who launched the petition to impeach Ascough.
In an online statement, Impeach UCDSU President spokesperson, Finn McLysaght, said that the success of the petition shows students’ “anger and incredulity” at Ascough’s actions.
McLysaght continued to explain that they will continue to collect signatures before handing them to the union’s returning officer to “facilitating the signing of more students so that they can be properly represented”.
In an email statement to The University Times following the announcement that the petition was successful, Secretary of UCD for Choice, Katie Cundelan said that they were “encouraged to see the widespread support for the impeachment of Katie Ascough and the protection of the pro-choice mandate”.
In a separate email statement to The University Times on Tuesday, detailing why they supported the movement to impeach Ascough, Cundelan said that their support came due to Ascough’s “disregard and violation of the SU mandate”.
Cundelan acknowledged that “every individual is entitled to and has the right to their personal beliefs, and we respect Katie Ascough in hers”, but that “her ability to represent” a majority pro-choice campus “has continually proven inadequate and flawed at best”. She continued that Ascough’s actions were “undermining” the efforts of the pro-choice campaign of UCDSU and of UCD for Choice, while also raising “questions about her concern for the welfare of the student”.
McLysaght said that the union has given this abortion information to students for over 20 years and that Ascough “censored” it “under the guise of avoiding fines”, even though “the maximum fine we could have possibly received was less than the cost of reprinting the publication containing said information”.
Speaking about why students signed the petition, McLysaght said that they were “fearful” that other stances the union holds “will be altered, or even overridden to assuage the UCDSU President”.
Cundelan said that UCD for Choice were looking “forward to a clean and respectful referendum campaign and hope to build on this groundswell of support in the coming weeks”.
Ascough, who confirmed this week she will not be attending the March for Choice on Saturday, has come under increased pressure in the last two weeks after she decided to remove abortion information for the UCD Freshers’ guide Winging It. The information she had removed was in relation to obtaining an abortion pill in Ireland, prices of abortions abroad and two women’s help websites. Ascough defended the decision saying she was following legal advice. The decision triggered national condemnation, as well as turmoil in UCDSU, with Ascough’s decision roundly condemned by her fellow sabbatical officers.