University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) President Katie Ascough has written an open letter to students, defending her decision to prevent the union from publishing illegal information and stating “that the call for my impeachment is without legitimate cause”.
In the email, seen by The University Times, Ascough said that “it is no secret that I am pro-life and many students are not”, and claimed that “since the day I was elected, before I’d been put in office, some students were already calling for my impeachment”.
“Another alarming matter is the bullying tactics of a group of students to try and discard a democratically elected SU president”, Ascough stated.
Ascough, who took an executive decision to remove the information, explained her decision-making process at length. In the letter, she claimed that she was aware of the information but not the illegality. It was only after the guides were printed that the various issues with the content were brought to her attention. Ascough explained that she consulted the union’s lawyer and board of directors for advice. She further said that up to two dozen people would have been at risk of incurring fines of “tens of thousands of euro” if the information had remained.
Speaking to The University Times three weeks ago, UCDSU Welfare Officer, Eoghan MacDomhnaill, said that “whenever the legalities point was brought up, three of the sabbats, myself”, UCDSU Deputy President and Campaigns and Communications Officer, Barry Murphy, and UCDSU Graduate Officer Niall Torris “all said that we were happy to give it out”, and that they were all aware of the illegality of the abortion information in the guide.
All four of the other sabbatical officers, Murphy, Sweeney, Torris, and MacDomhnaill, condemned the removal of the information, with Murphy saying that omitting the information about abortion was a “win” for Ascough and for “strong circles and her family”.
Ascough outlined the successes she has experienced so far in the role of UCDSU President, including hosting successful events and fighting for student rights. Talking about her work against the rising costs that students are experiencing, she promised students that she “will continue to stand strong against these costs on your behalf”.
Ascough pointed out her future plans to students also in a bid to avoid impeachment. These included five microwaves, which are to be installed throughout the UCD campus, lobbying the government on higher education funding and developing UCD’s Walk Safe Service.
A petition to impeach Ascough was handed in on October 9th and was accepted by the union’s returning officer yesterday. The second petition gained over 1,200 signatures and will result in a referendum on October 25th and 26th.
After the petition was handed in, Ascough released a statement saying she would go on annual leave, a step that is required in the run up to an impeachment referendum. Barry Murphy, Deputy President and Campaigns and Communications Officer, will serve as Acting President until the referendum happens.
Ascough started her campaign against her impeachment as soon as news broke that the referendum would be happening. A statement, which was posted to the UCDSU Facebook page, asked students to “allow the impeachment campaign and indeed my own campaign against impeachment remain outside SU business”.
For the referendum to be valid, 10 per cent of students – which amounts to between 2,000 and 3,000 – have to vote. A simple majority is required to win the referendum.
Ascough became the subject of widespread criticism after it was revealed that she had removed abortion information for the first print edition of UCDSU freshers’ guidebook Winging It three weeks ago. The decision resulted in €8,000 of union money being spent to reprint the guide with altered information, which Ascough herself wrote. The rewrite resulted in the removal of a price list of abortions in other countries and two women’s help websites.
Ascough said in the email to students that the cost of the reprint was €7,000. However, speaking to The University Times three weeks ago, Murphy explained that the first print cost was €1,000 as they had generated sponsorship, bringing the total cost to the union to €8,000.
In the appeal to students, Ascough said that she suggested to the other sabbatical officers that they “publish the amended book online, and not incur this cost, but they were certain they wanted it reprinted”. When speaking to The University Times, Murphy explained that the union had gained €6,000 in advertisements to help cover the cost of the book, and that there would be “reputational damage going forward” had they not reprinted the guide: “I had to fight for the book being printed.”
The reprinting of the guide and a general perception that Ascough had broken her election promise to delegate all matters relations to UCDSU’s pro-choice mandate led a group of 20 students to begin collecting signatures to trigger an impeachment referendum against Ascough.
However, the first collection of signatures last week – during which enough pledges were gathered as to the trigger the referendum – was rejected by the union’s returning officer as the petitions were not correctly filled out by each student. The collective of students got the backing of UCD for Choice, a prominent pro-choice group on campus.
Ascough did not attend the thousands-strong March for Choice on Saturday, September 30th. But the controversy did not dissuade Ascough from attending the March for Education a week ago with a small delegation of UCD students joining the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to call for publicly funded education.