A petition to impeach UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) president Katie Ascough has been rejected by the SU’s Returning Officer. The petition, which gained over 1620 signatures, came as a result of a backlash to Ms.Ascough removing a page from the Winging It magazine which provided information about abortion supports.
The petition was rejected as it did not include a field for student signatures. It had the following titles: Name, Programme, Stage, and Student Number. The UCDSU Constitution states that “in the case of a referendum by petition, each petitioner must sign the referendum petition underneath, at the end of, or on a sheet attached to, an exact copy of the wording of the proposed referendum and provide their name, programme, stage and student number.”
The campaign group immediately set about re-petitioning and collecting the signatures again in the correct form. On Thursday the group announced on their Facebook page, Impeach UCDSU President, that they had again reached the requisite number of signatures necessary to initiate a referendum on the first day of collection, and had again “reached more signatures than the UCDSU President received votes.” The organisers of the impeachment petition intend to re-submit the document to the Returning Officer shortly and initiate a referendum on Ascough’s impeachment.
The petition originally came following widespread criticism from the student body, who voted in November 2016 to retain UCD’s pro-choice stance. The petition for her impeachment was started by a group of 20 students, independent of the UCDSU and of campaign group UCD For Choice. It surpassed the requirement of 1000 signatures, or approximately 3.5% of the student body, within one day.
Ascough spent over €8000 reprinting the magazine, which was provided to incoming first-years, with the page removed. The page describes prices of surgery abroad at different gestation periods, provided details about support and counselling groups, and gave information on how to learn about abortion pills, which are illegal in Ireland. She said she removed the page “in line with the legal advice obtained [from the student union’s lawyer], and with agreement from the Board of Directors to follow that legal advice”.
Ascough has stated that, to her, “this is not a personal moral issue but a legal one”, that critics “have every right to disagree”, and that she understands their reasons for doing so. The decision was undertaken without the agreement of her fellow sabbatical officers, who have rebuked her actions on the matter. The maximum amount that the UCDSU could be legally fined for this action is approximately €4000, half the costs of reprinting. The union purposefully accepted a fine for providing information about abortion in the 1990s rather than leaving the information unavailable.
Ascough is a prominent anti-abortion advocate, having spoken on behalf of Students for Life. Her father, Tom Ascough, sits on the board for the IONA institute. Ms. Ascough regularly wrote for Alive!, a conservative Christian newspaper, though her sister Hope has recently taken over her column. Ms Ascough won the election for Students’ Union president with 46% of the vote in a four-way race. She promised upon winning that she would “facilitate” UCDSU’s pro-choice stance as president, although hoped for respect of her personal beliefs.
“The intense speed and passion with which UCD students have shown their support for a referendum to impeach the UCDSU President conveys their anger and incredulity at her shamefully undemocratic actions” said the campaign group Impeach UCDSU President in an online statement.
At the time of writing the petition has not been formally handed in.
Update, 10/10: Today the Returning Officer accepted the second petition. As of today, Ms.Ascough has taken a leave of absence from her role until the conclusion of the impeachment referendum. The referendum is due to take place on October 25-26th. Campaigns & Communications Officer Barry Murphy will take over from Ms.Ascough until then.