“Our papers are not good enough.” This sentence was one among the closing statement by Katie Ascough at today’s Impeachment Hustings. These are common words to hear in this new political world of ‘fake news’. Ascough claims that The University Observer write only one positive story about her for every negative one, and that apparently UCD students can no longer trust their news papers. This publication’s only purpose on campus is to provide the student body with facts, and we shall continue to do so, regardless of Katie Ascough’s vendetta against the media.
In the hours since this afternoon’s hustings, it has been confirmed that the reprinted version of the Union handbook is still illegal. This new information brings into question many of statement made by Ascough this afternoon.
The Impeachment Hustings took place at 4pm in the Old Student Centre Atrium, with the aim to give Katie Ascough, for the Vote No Campaign, and Amy Crean, of the Vote Yes campaign, opportunity to speak to the student body.
The structure of the hustings was a 10 minute speech by each side, followed by a 5 minute period of rebuttal for each speaker, and then the floor was opened to questions from students. Ascough won the coin toss and she chose that Crean would speak first.
The Yes Side – Speech
Crean opened by stating that a vote to impeach is a “vote for transparency and democracy.” The cause for impeachment “is not about personal views” and is “not one issue, but a series of actions” by Katie. Crean says that Ascough has made a series of decisions that mean that “the union does not function under the current leadership.”
In relation to the removal of abortion information from the SU Handbook, Crean explained that there is a “grey area of legality” and “It’s only illegal to provide abortion information when it’s unsolicited”. She recalls UCDSU’s proud history as a political body and reminds us that “no union has ever been punished for giving out that information”. Her point being that the risk of a criminal record that Ascough uses as her reason for breaking the union’s mandate, was very little risk at all. Crean maintains that “there have been countless opportunities to engage and respond and apologise.”
In response to Ascough’s claims that a small group of students have been using this campaign to bully her, Crean says “over 1,200 signatures is not a small group” and that “the bullying line is a tactic to distract from the facts.” In Crean’s words, Ascough’s presidency has been “A series of broken promises” with “personal views being brought into a professional position.”
The No Side – Speech
Following this, Ascough made her speech. She opened by saying that she hold “I have some views that are not the norm in UCD” and claimed that she is being bullied by “Students who can’t live with me being the way I am.” Ascough says that the Vote Yes campaign have been looking for a reason to impeach her from the day of her election, and their reasons are constantly changing.
In relation to the removal of abortion information, Ascough provides a very similar explanation as seen in a video that the Vote No campaign released on Monday; she promised to respect the Union’s pro-choice stance, but she did not promise to break the law. It has since been confirmed that the version of the handbook that was approved and distributed by Ascough, is still illegal.
Ascough says that the claim that she wanted to discourage pro-choice students from running for class rep was all based on a single conversation in relation to a facebook post.
On the claim that she tried to reduce UCD for Choice funding, she says that the “Repeal budget was drafted to be three times the amount of any other SU campaign” and she questioned that because it’s her “job to question spending.” She finished up by saying, “It’s been an amazing 4 months and I wouldn’t change anything… Please do not let all of this work be undermined, a no vote is for competent student leadership.”
In Crean’s rebuttal of this she explained that “It’s not that we keep changing our reasons, it’s that the list of reasons keep growing.” She explained that she did express her desire to impeach Ascough from the moment of her election, as during Ascough’s campaign “there was no line drawn between personal and professional” actions and Crean anticipated that this would cause issues in the functioning of the Union.
Ascough opened her rebuttal by reading from a personal Facebook post of Crean’s from the day of Ascough’s election, that says Crean would not support a democratically elected president whose views oppress certain students. Ascough says that she didn’t reply to both college’s papers questions on the handbook issue, “I tried not to damage the image of the Union”, but “unfortunately some of the sabbats went behind my back to the papers.” Ascough finished by saying “I’ve done the best that i could with the circumstances I’ve had.”
Questions from the Floor
The floor was opened to questions. The University Observer asked Ascough to confirm if she was the first person to raise concerns about the legality of the handbook and Ascough replied, “I didn’t spur any legal questions.” Ascough could not answer the Observer’s second question on the content of the first phone call she had with the Union’s lawyer as she could not remember what was said.
The College Tribune asked Ms Ascough if she would support the campaign for same sex marriage equality in Northern Ireland as passed by the UCDSU council on Monday. She refused to answer directly.
A student asked how Ascough would return to the role of President, now that three of her fellow officers have taken annual leave to campaign for her impeachment. Ascough says that during the summer, thing were “almost going too well” but she does not discuss how this contradicts with her claim of sexism and bullying.
When Ascough was asked, “What do you say to reports of non-ucd students campaigning on your behalf?”, she replied that she checked with the Returning Officer and that “It’s ok to have friends” who are not UCD students campaign for you.
Ascough was asked “How can you represent LGBT students when you believe that they should have their fundamental human rights?” She replies, “I have always been willing and ready to work with all types of students, I hope people can feel represented by me, I’m doing my best, and like I said, I’m a president for everyone.”
Crean also answers this question with the concern that she doesn’t know “how the union is supposed to feel safe” for LGBTQ+ people with Ascough as president.
Ascough was asked, “Why did she only bring up the all male union now when her position is at risk?” She replied that “It has been a little bit of a challenge to lead an all male team”, giving no examples of how. When asked asked about the Boojum controversy, Ascough said “I found it a little bit shocking that a private company would come out and state something about my views.”
One student asked about the obvious disparity between Ascough’s version of events and the other sabbat’s claims. Ascough responds to this by saying that the college papers have been biased and over negative towards her, and she directs anyone looking for the true story to her Facebook page. This claim of bias has been disputed by the College Tribune and Barry Murphy in his open letter.
In Crean’s closing statement, she concluded that Ascough has “A tendency to avoid questions and a trend of disrespect.” She points out the contradiction between the accusations of bullying and sexism that Ascough has made against her fellow sabbatical officers and her insistence that, if she is not impeached, she will be ready and willing to return to work with them.
In Ascough’s closing statement, she returns to the issues of the student Handbooks, saying that she has been “pushed and manipulated so many times about why I would make that decision.” She explains that she promised to uphold the Union’s mandate, but she “never promised to risk a criminal record.” Though this argument falls short now that we know that the reprinted version of the handbook is still, in fact, illegal.
Ascough claims that “If i was a pro-choice president, I wouldn’t be getting these questions.” If Ascough was a pro-choice, there would be no grounds for impeachment because her personal views would not be in conflict with the union mandate. Regardless, both DIT and Maynooth have pro-life union presidents that have managed to maintain their unions pro choice mandates without their student bodies calling for impeachment.
Muireann O’Shea – News Writer/Film Editor, Reporting from the Student Centre