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Thursday 18 October 2018

Hundreds of students take to the polls to vote in referendum to impeach UCDSU President Katie Ascough

Katie Ascough
Katie Ascough
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Hundreds of students have taken to the polls to vote in the referendum to impeach SU President Katie Ascough.

Polling stations opened around campus Tuesday morning and will close at 8pm on Thursday night.

UCD students called to impeach Katie Ascough after she was criticised for withdrawing information over access to abortion services in a magazine circulated to new students.

Ms Ascough said she took an "executive decision" to redact the abortion information after receiving legal advice that the information was illegal in Ireland, despite the fact the information was previously available in UCD.

The information in the 'Winging It' magazine that was removed included pregnancy help websites, the prices of abortion in other countries and information on abortion pills.

Ms Ascough's decision was widely criticised by the student body as the decision to remove the page, which required reprinting the annual guide, was reported to have cost the union €8,000.

As the impeachment referendum took place this week, some of Ms Ascough's colleagues in the Students' Union asked for annual leave.

However, this call was denied.

Katie Ascough: took an ‘executive decision' 'after receiving legal advice'
Katie Ascough: took an ‘executive decision' 'after receiving legal advice'

Rob Sweeney, Barry Murphy and Niall Torris had announced on Monday night that they were to take annual leave from Tuesday in order to campaign for the impeachment of Katie Ascough.

In a statement on Facebook, Graduate Officer Niall Torris said “We won’t see you at lectures or polling today as our leave has been cancelled. IADB overruled The Executives decision as is their right by the constitution. OUR views remain the same and PLEASE #VoteYES, but we must now refrain from commenting”.

Eoghan MacDomhnaill the UCD SU Welfare Officer has tonight said he will be voting to impeach Ascough. This means that all fours sabbatical officers are now calling for Ms Ascough's impeachment.

The group calling to impeach Ms Ascough said that hundreds of students voted in the referendum today.

Katie Ascough
Katie Ascough

"We are hugely satisfied with engagement in this issue, and with the SU in general. We hope this sparked engagement continues, and with less divisive reason in the future."

The results of the referendum are expected to be announced on Thursday night.

In Ms Ascough's defence, she said that she removed the abortion information after asking for legal advice on the issue.

Independent.ie received a copy of the legal advice sought by Ms Ascough. The advice is four pages long.

One sabbatical officer told Independent.ie that there was "information overload" at the meeting and that they were left confused with some of the lengthy terms.

An extract from the legal advice states:

“Having had the opportunity to peruse the intended publication, I have some serious concerns about UCDSU proceeding in the manner envisaged.

"For reasons I will set out hereunder, I have formed the conclusion that distributing the handbook with this text will almost undoubtedly constitute a breach of the Act in one respect, and may well be at risk of being considered a breach of the Act in two other respects, depending on how any case on the points proceed."

The legal advice then concludes that the handbook should be reprinted or cancelled.

The controversy comes as Ireland prepares to hold a referendum on repealing the 8th Amendment next year.

This week, the calls for Ms Ascough’s impeachment attracted attention across the water, with The Guardian headlining a story; 'Calls to impeach Dublin student president over anti-abortion stance'.

"The bid to oust University College Dublin’s Katie Ascough over her strong anti-abortion views comes ahead of what is widely expected to be a rancorous wider campaign in the run-up to next year’s planned abortion reform referendum," The Guardian wrote.

Ms Ascough, a member of 'Students for Life', whose father Tom Ascough sits on the board of the Iona Institute, was elected following a ballot of students last March.

Since, more students have signed the petition for her impeachment than those who voted to elect Ms Ascough in the first place.

In a letter seen by Independent.ie, Ms Ascough said it "is no secret that she is pro-life and many students are not."

She said the calls for impeachment are "without legitimate cause" and described as "alarming" the "bullying tactics" of a group of students to "try and discard a democratically elected SU president."

"It was clear from the outset that some students didn’t want to give me a chance as SU President because of my views on abortion," she said.

The Students Union has already committing to running a Repeal the 8th campaign. It first decided not to remain neutral in 2014 and the stance was voted on again last year.

"I am going to be a president for everyone," Ms Ascough said in her speech after her election was announced, “But I will be a president that represents everyone.”

Students at UCD have called for Ms Ascough’s petition as they feel like she no longer represents them.

Graduate Officer Niall Torris told Independent.ie that students feel "outraged" by Ms Ascough's actions, not because she is pro-life, but because she didn’t stick to her mandate.

"Katie's campaign promise that she had researched and that she would be able to delegate any issues relating to choice and repeal and that it could be done.

"There are a few questions there from the students on whether money is being spent prudently and are core election promises being upheld.

"She promised that she would delegate because of her compromising position and the student body took that on good faith.  Whether that promise was made in ignorance or in cynicism isn't really the issue.

"The problem is that the electorate took that promise in good faith and the electorate see it as a betrayal of faith."

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