University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) will take more control over President Katie Ascough’s role in abortion issues, following a vote in September mandating all “pro-choice” discussions Ascough has with her union officials to be recorded.
The vote, which came in the wake of Ascough’s now-infamous decision to remove abortion access information from the UCDSU freshers’ guide, was revealed in just-published minutes from the union’s executive meeting.
Four different motions, all relating to the removal of abortion information and reprinting of the Winging It freshers’ guide, passed at the September 21st UCDSU Executive Meeting.
UCDSU Education Officer Robert Sweeney, UCDSU Graduate Officer Niall Torris and UCDSU Campaigns and Communications Officer Barry Murphy, who is now acting President of UCDSU, all told Ascough they had “no confidence” in her ability to run the union.
It remains to be seen what role the sabbatical officers will play in the impeachment campaign against Ascough.
Among the motions was one stating that “all future pro-choice discussion with Katie to be minuted” including one-on-one sabbatical officer meetings with Ascough, with a preference for Murphy to be present to take minutes. A second motion that passed means that Murphy and one staff member should be present “when a pro-choice issue is being discussed”.
Another motion that passed was “to ensure the Lawyer is to be accessible to [Murphy] and any staff member specifically with [pro-choice] matters”. This motion stems from the fact that no sabbatical officer was allowed to talk to the union’s lawyer, Richard Hammond, but only through Ascough as “spokesperson for the union”.
When speaking to The University Times three weeks ago, Sweeney said that one of his greatest concerns was the fact that Ascough delivered the legal advice she sought after she was made aware that some of the abortion information in the guide was illegal.
“How could I take the legal information if it wasn’t direct? I felt when the original conversation was had…The lawyer should have been on the phone and on the case and it shouldn’t have been Katie presenting the case”, Sweeney said.
Ascough distributed the legal information she received from Hammond at the executive meeting, with Murphy commenting, saying “thank you for the legal advice” but it was “[too] little too late”.
Another issue that arose, said Murphy when speaking to The University Times three weeks ago, surrounded the reprinting of the freshers’ guide was Ascough’s attempt at preventing Murphy from “recruiting pro-choice” class reps despite a post on their Facebook page appealing for class reps interested in certain campaign issues. However, a motion was brought forward at the executive meeting, and passed, which allows Murphy to promote pro-choice reps. “As this is his job.”
The final motion to pass declared that all “College Officers are to be kept informed by all sabbats which affects college officers and all major decisions”.
A referendum to impeach Ascough will be held on October 25th and 26th, after a second petition to impeach Ascough, which gained over 1,200 signatures, was handed in on October 9th and was accepted by the union’s returning officer. The first petition had failed due to the fact they were not correctly filled out by each student.
Yesterday, on her campaign Facebook page, Ascough defended her decision, saying “that the call for my impeachment is without legitimate cause”. She went on further to say 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”.
Ascough released a statement following the announcement of the referendum on Tuesday, saying she would go on annual leave, as is required while the impeachment referendum is ongoing. Barry Murphy, Deputy President and Campaigns and Communications Officer, will serve as Acting President until the referendum happens.
Between 2,800 and 3,000 students – 10 per cent of students – need to vote in the for the referendum to be valid. A simple majority is required to win the referendum.
Ascough has come under fire over the last three weeks after it was revealed that she had removed abortion information for the first print edition of UCDSU freshers’ guidebook Winging It. The decision resulted in €8,000 of union money being spent to reprint the guide without of a price list of abortions in other countries and two women’s help websites.
Ascough said in the open letter 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.
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.