Friday 14 December 2018

'I didn't want to do something illegal' - UCDSU President Katie Ascough speaks out as students vote in impeachment referendum

Katie Ascough
Katie Ascough

Sasha Brady and Catherine Devine

UCD SU President Katie Ascough released an open letter this morning urging students to vote no to her impeachment.

Ms Ascough faces impeachment over her "executive decision" to ban information on abortions from a student publication.

A vote on whether or not to remove her from office is currently being held across campus, triggered by a petition signed by 1,200 students.

As students take to the polling stations, Ms Ascough has shared an open letter on the Fight4Katie Facebook page urging them to vote no.

Ms Ascough explained that she sought legal advice over the distribution of the Winging It books, the publication at the centre of the controversy.

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.

"The advice I received on the issue was clear. It said that the prudent action was to redesign the books or, if it was too late – and it was – to cancel them. Some have referred to the SU’s 'proud history' of breaking the law, especially in the 80s and 90s, but the question is this: Is it fair to demand that I break the law, too? I ran on a platform of things like cutting the cost of college and improving mental health supports. I did not agree to break the law and run the risk of a criminal record for the rest of my life," she wrote.

In her letter, Ms Ascough denied claims that she used "forceful manipulation" to decrease the Repeal budget.

"This is also untrue," she said. "As President of the SU, one of my main duties is to regulate finances. Asking a question whether it is right to spend three times the amount of any other campaign on the Repeal campaign alone – leaving less money for other campaigns, such as consent or the environment – is not 'forceful manipulation'. It is doing my job."

Ms Ascough highlighted the risks that she would have faced, including a personal criminal conviction and up to €4,000 in fines. She claimed that despite the potential risks, she felt pressured by her teammates to distribute the material.

"We had so many conversations, put aside so many important projects to have the same circling arguments. I was not comfortable putting myself and others at risk – risks that were real, that were written in legal advice, and that I, very genuinely, was worried about," she said.

Ms Ascough also addressed questions shared by the student body over why she didn't share the legal advice she sought with the sabbats.

"The COO and I discussed at length the illegality and its implications, but the sabbatical officers still wanted to move ahead. The illegality ultimately wasn’t an issue for them. And that’s fine. They wanted to take the risk upon themselves, and that can be considered noble by some. But it is not very noble of four men to gang up and demand that one woman, against her will, break the law.

"You cannot mandate someone to break the law, even our own UCDSU Constitution recognises this. It was not right and it was not fair to try to make me do something against my will, and then to say that the advice they were giving me was for my own sake. That argument doesn’t stand up and is self-serving. They wanted me to do something illegal and I didn’t want to do it – that is the bottom line.

"And when I didn’t do what they wanted me to do, they did not forgive me for this. Shortly after, all but one called for no confidence in me as their President. This, to me, is inherently unfair."

Polling stations for the impeachment referendum opened across campus on Tuesday morning and will close at 8pm tonight.

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

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.

She said the calls for impeachment are "without legitimate cause" and described as "alarming" the 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 impeachment as they feel like she no longer represents them.

Graduate Officer Niall Torris told 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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