Katie Ascough has spoken to the University Observer about the controversies that have led to an impeachment referendum. The questions and answers relating to this article can be seen in full at the bottom of the page.
In this article, the first of two articles about the email exchange between Ascough and the University Observer, Ascough explains how difficult the past few weeks have been for her and that ultimately, she believes she did the right thing to follow legal advice and remove the illegal content.
Answering questions via email, Ascough says that removing the illegal abortion information from the Winging It in UCD handbook was not censorship. She believes she is not responsible for the cost incurred by reprinting the handbooks, and feels some people in the impeachment campaign are targeting Ascough for holding pro-life views.
The controversy surrounding the Winging It in UCD handbooks arose following an article published by the University Observer where it was reported that Ascough made an “executive decision” to remove abortion information that was illegal to distribute following legal advice. Ascough has since released the legal advice to the public, and shared this legal advice with her fellow sabbatical officers and college officers of the union at an executive meeting on September 21st.
Ascough denies removing the information from the handbooks was censorship: “the decision to not illegally distribute abortion information was made after following legal advice from the Union’s longstanding lawyer.”
“The information in UCDSU’s book was changed from showing the explicit abortion information, to providing the phone numbers and websites for organisations from which the exact same abortion information could be received in a solicited, legal way. This had nothing to do with censorship, and the [change was made] so that the Union could stay within the law.”
When asked about the financial burden of €7,000 to the SU of reprinting the books, Ascough explains that the suggestion she made “to the Sabbatical Officers was that we publish the amended book online…but they were certain they wanted it reprinted.”
Ascough also suggests individuals who knew the information was illegal to distribute could have spoken out sooner. “The staff member who wrote the explicit abortion information, who knew it was illegal and that it had caused controversy the year before, [could] have told me that it was illegal before the books were printed the first time around. This way, I could have sought legal advice before the books were printed, and the €7,000 reprint would not have been an issue.”
In Ascough’s open letter to UCD students, she accuses the impeachment campaign of bullying, she tells the University Observer that “some members of the Impeach UCDSU President campaign have been posting pro-impeachment Twitter and Facebook posts since the day of my election back in March, before I had the chance to make even one presidential action or decision. It was clear from the outset that some students didn’t want to give me a chance as SU President because of my personal views.”
When asked if there are things she would do differently now looking back, Ascough says “it’s difficult to see how things could have been done differently.”
“I did what I felt was the right, responsible, and reasonable thing to do in not breaking the law. It is regrettable that the team didn’t see fit to support me in this decision, but I did what I felt I needed to protect the Union and its team.”
Ascough has been criticised by some for not giving an official statement on the controversy before the impeachment referendum was announced. Ascough says she “was advised by Union staff not to [issue a statment] through official SU channels.”
“My initial plan was to make a clear statement about the books and to act as Chief Spokesperson on this issue. However, the internal email I sent to the team asking they would respect my role as Chief Spokesperson was leaked to the press and framed as me trying to silence my own team.”
“It was a very lonely place to be at the time. However, I was doing the best I could with the circumstances I was given.”
The referendum for Ascough’s impeachment will take place next week, Wednesday and Thursday, October 25th and 26th. Members of the Students’ Union (i.e. all registered UCD students) will be able to vote for or against the impeachment of UCDSU president Katie Ascough.