Since launching our campaign, large numbers of our fellow students have engaged with us and expressed support for impeachment of the UCDSU President. The fact that more students signed our petition than voted for Ascough in the election confirms that many UCD students feel betrayed by our President’s undemocratic actions. The upcoming impeachment referendum has been framed by some as being a question of pro-choice versus pro-life ideologies on abortion. We would like to reiterate, however, that the Yes to Impeachment campaign is solely concerned with maintaining the democratic process within our SU; our interest is not in the President’s personal views, but in her ability to run the SU democratically and to follow the mandates that students have voted for.
We do not believe that President Ascough’s wishes to negotiate a decreased budget for UCD for Choice, nor her attempted restriction on the recruitment of pro-choice class reps, comply with the SU’s democratically set agenda. Moreover, our primary cause for concern is the President’s executive decision to spend €7,000 of SU funds on reprinting the Winging It handbook in order to censor information on abortion services. Ascough cites the 1995 Regulation of Information Act as her reason for removing the information. The Act prohibits the sharing of abortion information “without solicitation from the recipients”. However Senator Ivana Bacik, a Professor of Criminal Law, has argued that the Winging It handbook is unlikely to be found to fit this definition. Since the Regulation of Information Act was passed in 1995, no student union has ever been prosecuted under it. UCDSU published the now-redacted information on abortion in the Winging It handbook last year and faced no legal consequences for doing so.
The President made the decision to remove this information without prior consultation with the four sabbatical officers. She also later rejected Campaigns and Communications Officer Barry Murphy’s offer to rewrite the page on abortion services so that it would comply with the Regulation of Information Act. These actions indicate that the President prioritised her personal views on abortion over the SU’s pro-choice stance – a stance that the President is mandated to follow according to the votes of UCD students. We are deeply worried by Ascough’s disregard for the responsibilities of the office of President, and we question her capacity to fairly and democratically represent the students who voted for her. Further reinforcing our concerns surrounding the President’s actions, the minutes for the executive meeting held on September 21st state that three of the four sabbatical officers hold No Confidence in Ascough’s abilities as President following her undemocratic executive decision.
We worry about the President’s undermining of the SU’s official mandate not only on account of democracy, but also in terms of student welfare. Student unions are inherently political bodies, charged to work in the interests of the students they serve. They should, and do, prioritise their mandates and welfare of students over conflicting laws. In fact, UCDSU takes pride in its history of breaching laws in order to protect its students. Winging It proudly describes how the SU distributed condoms on campus in the past when contraception was illegal. The SU has also published information on how to safely use illegal recreational drugs. The SU takes these measures to ensure student safety above legalities and ideologies because keeping this information unavailable puts our welfare in jeopardy. The President has not addressed the legal issues pertaining to contraception or drug usage in any statement. Her personal views on abortion, however, have clearly affected her decisions regarding the handbook, particularly given that she has failed to keep her promise to ‘delegate’ pro-choice issues to her colleagues.
We wish to stress that irrespective of the legality of the information removed from the handbook, its inclusion is tantamount to student welfare. It is inevitable that some students will seek information about how to procure an abortion. When they do so, it is crucial that they can turn to trustworthy sources of information such as SU publications, instead of compromising their own health by turning to potentially unreliable and dangerous information sources online. Not everyone can afford to travel abroad for an abortion, and so the censoring of information about how to obtain safe abortion pills in Ireland could very well lead vulnerable students to seek alternative, dangerous ‘home remedies’. The President’s disregard for her pro-choice mandate cannot be viewed as a simple oversight when her actions put the students in her care at risk.
President Ascough was elected democratically, and as such she has a responsibility to the electorate to do her job in a democratic manner. She has repeatedly failed to do so, having broken her promise to delegate issues regarding abortion. Instead, she has censored information vital to student welfare, attempted to prevent UCD for Choice from joining the SU at their stand in the Freshers’ Tent, and tried to stop the recruitment of pro-choice class reps. We wish to hold our representatives accountable for their actions. UCD students deserve a President who acts with integrity, who follows the mandates laid out for them and who respects the importance of a fair and transparent democratic process within our Student Union.
Aoife Murray – Vote Yes Campaign