The President of the University College Dublin Students’ Union Katie Ascough was impeached on 26 October.
The petition calling for Ascough’s impeachment was initially started because Ascough made an executive decision against the wishes of her fellow sabbatical officers to remove abortion information from the ‘Winging It in UCD’ handbooks.
Ascough and her funders conducted a disgraceful campaign against impeachment in the weeks before the vote. She accused those wishing to impeach her of bullying and attacked her sabbatical officers.
“It is not very noble of four men to gang up and demand that one woman, against her will, break the law,” Ascough wrote in an open letter on the ‘Fight for Katie’ Facebook page on the day of the vote.
Ascough presents herself as the victim of sexist bullying. But, that is not the case.
Campaigns and Communications Officer Barry Murphy made a public Facebook post supporting the impeachment campaign on 23 October. The post garnered over 4,400 reactions.
The post recounted the confrontation between Ascough and Murphy about the handbook. “20 minutes before she was due to leave [for annual leave], Katie decided to look at the book for the first time,” Murphy wrote.
“She insisted the [abortion] information would have to be removed,” but eventually “reluctantly agreed to leave the information in.”
Three weeks later, Ascough cancelled the book “because she had suddenly become aware the information was illegal” despite being present at a talk discussing the history of distributing illegal information in previous editions of the handbook.
Ascough often cites the legal advice allegedly given to her by the SU lawyer as a defence. Murphy claims that he and the other sabbatical officers were never shown the legal advice or allowed to speak to the lawyer.
This necessitated a second printing of the handbook costing €8,000. This print also contained illegal information. Ascough did not seek legal advice before finalising the second edition.
With this context, it is undeniable that the campaign to impeach Ascough was not a bullying campaign. Screenshots of the WhatsApp campaign group chat leaked to the University Observer discuss the bullying narrative’s effectiveness as a campaign tactic. It is just that: a tactic and not the truth.
It is also the flipside of the truth. Amy Crean of the impeachment campaign wrote in a Facebook post that she has received death threats and “had her personal media combed through and publicised.”
You might take issue with the presence of any illegal information in the handbook regardless of the abortion issue. But, illegal information remained in the expensive second edition that Ascough pushed through. She would have had a leg to stand on if she had removed all illegal information. She did not. This was clearly a bias-motivated act which contradicted the mandate given to her by the UCD referendum on the abortion issue.
A talking point has been made of the legal advice allegedly given to Ascough by SU solicitor Richard Hammond.
This was discussed by an unknown former UCD alumni in their anonymous letter to the University Observer under the pseudonym ‘DeepThroat UCD.’ They called into doubt Ascough’s claims that the experienced Hammond advised a course of action which has proven so controversial.
Concerns about the running of the No campaign were also raised by an anonymous member of that campaign. They expressed concern that a member of the Ascough family and “other pro-lifers external to the University” are involved in the campaign.
Ascough is dishonestly telling a narrative where she is an honest worker who is being bullied by screeching feminists (and also sexist men, somehow) for her personal views. This is not true. This is not an abortion issue. You can be pro-life and still recognise that Ascough’s impeachment is good.
Ascough has used this campaign to clamber onto the national stage. Murphy wrote that she wants to be a national spokesperson for the pro-life campaign. She used her position and campaign to publicise herself. Murphy describes it as “embarrassing.” Another word might be ‘chilling.’