Impeachment of Katie Ascough: What Led Us Here

On Friday morning, the final results of the impeachment referendum were announced at 12.45am. Overall turnout for voting was 6611, one of the highest in recent years, with some UCD students queueing for up to half an hour to vote. 69% voted in favour of impeachment.In her concession speech, Ascough stated, "I have been open and honest in answering very many questions. I have respected the law. I feel confident that I have done all that I could for the students that I am grateful to have been elected to represent. This is a sad day for me but it is also a sad day for our university. Universities should be a place of freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of association, fairness, respect for those who do not wish to break the law and respect for others with different beliefs."The impeachment referendum saw one of the highest turnouts of voters in recent years. UCD students queued at polling stations today to cast their votes, in some cases queueing for up to half an hour. Overall 69% of students voted yes, with 31% of students voting against impeachment.A yes to impeachment vote was returned from every faculty buidling, even on Ascough's home turf, Science, where 72% voted yes. A majority yes vote was narrowly won in Quinn, with 55% in favour, 45% against. The largest turnout was seen in Arts, with 1787 students voting. 77% voted yes to impeachment in Arts and Agriculture, the largest percentage of yes votes for each building.The impeachment takes place following a dramatic campaign where Ascough accused those wishing to impeach her of bullying, complained about her fellow sabbatical officers, and shared a meme mocking this campus newspaper.The conduct of her campaign resulted in the remaining sabbatical officers speaking out in favour of her impeachment. On Thursday evening, all four officers canvassed students to vote yes to her impeachment. Welfare Officer Eoghan Mac Domhnaill had originally made a public post on Facebook saying “should a referendum be called I’ll be standing by Katie all the way,” but following comments made against campus media, he publicly announced he would be endorsing her impeachment.Speaking to the University Observer after the final result was announced, Amy Crean of the impeachment campaign said: “It has been a long and stressful campaign. We are delighted obviously with the turnout. We ran this on democracy, student engagement”Ascough first became involved in Students’ Union politics when she was part of the campaign Students for Fair Representation. This campaign sought to change the Students’ Union stance on abortion from pro-choice to neutral. They obtained sufficient signatures at the beginning of the 2016/2017 academic year to call for a referendum on the SU stance on abortion. A previous referendum in October of 2013 had resulted in a mandate to support repealing the eighth amendment.Students for Fair Representation felt that a pro-choice union did not fairly represent students who were pro-life or on the fence about abortion. The referendum had a large turnout, with 4781 students voting, of which 64% voted for the SU to maintain its pro-choice stance.Acough then opted to run for President in the second semester. When questioned, she did not deny her pro-life views, and promised to delegate on matters relating to abortion. However, she did not advertise her pro-life stance, which led to some students voting for her without knowledge of it.Thanks to student engagement, charisma, and ideas for positive change on campus, Ascough gained support. Support for her opposition was split amongst the other three candidates, ultimately strengthening her campaign. Much of the voting took place on the same day as the Strike 4 Repeal which meant that many pro-repeal students were not on campus.On March 9th Ascough was announced as UCDSU President for 2017/2018.Officially, Ascough became President on 15th June, her 21st birthday. During the summer months, the sabbatical officers worked well together, running a successful housing campaign that garnered interest from national media.The good work of the summer came to a head at the end of August, when Ascough, against the wishes of her fellow sabbatical officers, and against the advice of the COO of the union, made an executive decision to remove the Winging It in UCD handbooks from circulation and rewrite its abortion information. Ascough claimed that her reason for making this decision was that providing the abortion information in the handbook would be illegal under the 1995 Abortion Information Act.Written legal advice to Ascough from the SU’s lawyer Richard Hammond advised this route to be the prudent course of action, but in an earlier phone call he had stated he could defend the books in court. He also confirmed that the chances of a case against the union were extremely low as since the 1995 Abortion Information Act, no one had actually been charged for publishing similar information.When the decision to remove the abortion information was made public, a group formed and started a petition calling for an impeachment referendum.Since her impeachment, Ascough has featured prominently in national media including speaking on the Pat Kenny Show the morning following her impeachment. There is little doubt that more public appearances are to follow and that she will be involved in campaigning against repealing the eighth amendment. Through impeachment, Ascough has become a pro-life martyr and this will strengthen her position for the upcoming national referendum regarding the eighth amendment.