Head-to-Head: Should We Have Impeached Katie Ascough?

 
 

Were we right to impeach SU President Katie Ascough last month? Dean Swift argues that we were, and Daragh Fleming argues against the motion. Dean Swift’s argument appears first followed by Daragh Fleming’s rebuttal, with Daragh Fleming’s argument following that with Dean Swift’s rebuttal.


 

FOR

Dean Swift argues in favour of the motion, citing Ascough’s violations and the high voter turnout as indicative of reason and desire to impeach.

One would be ignorant to claim that Ascough’s beliefs played no part in the process. UCD students have voted to be in support of the pro-choice movement, and whatever impression may have been given by the initial election of Ascough, it does not nullify the votes that made the UCDSU act in favour of the Repeal campaign. Ascough promised not to interfere in the matter and not allow her personal views to affect her position as president, which was ultimately a lie to the students. She claimed she would delegate, but all other SU Officers have claimed that she never did, nor did she intend to, dismissing their opinions on the matter several times. The releasing of the Union Executive’s minutes could perhaps help clear up this matter, but the fact that this was delayed shows a lack of transparency.

The matter of voter turnout is another massive indicator that there was wrong-doing. Voting numbers in UCD elections have been steadily declining, with Ascough herself not meeting the quota of 1619 votes in the original election, receiving 1431. Less than 10% of UCD voted. The impeachment vote on the other hand received 6611 votes in total, 4540 in favour of impeachment. The impeachment referendum gained massive traction in student engagement, with more than two thirds voting in favour of impeachment. This was the student body clearly stating that we do not want Ascough, and we believe she has proven herself unfit to act as president. There remained still a large number of students who did not vote and we must wonder why. Were students unsure, or did they simply not care? One cannot consider these people non-voters either way, as what it does express is that they were not motivated to vote in favour of keeping Ascough.

The impeachment referendum gained massive traction in student engagement, with more than two thirds voting in favour of impeachment. This was the student body clearly stating that we do not want Ascough

The ideal “president for all” could well be close, what with the election fast approaching. However, Ascough was not a president for the majority, let alone for all, and this is best reflected in the issue that started it all: the Winging It in UCD publication. Ascough removed information that had been published by the union before, which may have caused legal issues in the past once, but not in the last 20 years. Ascough’s claimed fear of legal action was a clear façade; while technically illegal, it would have never resulted in legal action, particularly in the current social climate, and as she was advised initially by the SU’s lawyer. Her actions directly contradict the student vote and support the minority in UCD, directly opposing the majority.

The cost of reprinting the publication, in a cash-strapped Union, was also a colossal waste of money. Yes, the impeachment has also cost money, as will the election, but all of these costs should be put down to Ascough’s initial actions, not the impeachment movement. To use money as an argument against impeachment would be advising us to simply accept wrong-doing as stopping it would cost too much.

One should not view the question of impeachment as whether one supports or opposes the Repeal the 8th movement, it should be viewed as a question of whether Ascough acted in a manner that was detrimental to the union and against the will of the student body. The answer to both is a clear yes. All the evidence clearly suggests impeachment was the right decision. The impeachment vote is a clear statement by UCD students that they did not wish for Ascough to continue as president, which is in truth the most significant factor in all of this. The Union represents the students, it is subject to student control, and we as a majority felt that she should not continue as president. As such, Ascough was rightly and fairly impeached.

 

REBUTTAL by Daragh Fleming

There are two points made here which are complete speculation, rather biasing the reader. Regarding Ascough’s perceived lack of intention to delegate, you cannot assume any person’s intention without evidence unless you have the ability to read minds. On the assumption that students did not vote because they did not want Ascough as president, there is yet again no evidence to support this fabricated argument. As George Earle Buckle said, “in practical life the wisest and soundest people avoid speculation”.

Finally, I agree that this conflict should not be resolved based on “whether one supports or opposes the Repeal the 8th movement,” as this has very little to do with the responsibilities of an SU president. This writer believes that the SU president is elected to ensure that the Union acts within the bounds of the law. As such, Ascough fulfilled her duty in this regard. Whether or not it is believed that her own personal views affected this decision is irrelevant. The SU is obligated to represent the views of the student. However, it is not obligated, nor is it recommended, that it breaks the law in doing so.


 

AGAINST

In opposition to the motion, Daragh Fleming says that we cannot ignore the impact of Ascough’s views on arguments for her impeachment.

Just a few weeks ago we impeached Katie Ascough, effectively removing her from the position of SU President. We did this on the basis that she was acting out of personal interest, rather than on behalf of the student body. It was noted over and over again that Ascough was pro-life, and this was used as the catalyst that fuelled her impeachment.

The argument that was shrugged off, however, is that printing certain information about abortion was, and still is, illegal. Printing information regarding how and where to get an abortion is a punishable offence in Ireland as it stands. What is ironic about the situation is that we live in a society that will be outraged by authority figures such as the Gardaí or politicians breaking the law, but for some reason will also ridicule a student representative for overtly not breaking the law.

Because Ascough is openly pro-life, we have ignorantly assumed that this was her motivation in not printing the abortion information. Had there been no potential punishment, it is likely that she may not have even noticed the information regarding abortion. Ascough did not want to risk the tarnishing of her own record, or those of her team, because of information regarding a currently illegal activity, and that is understandable. Had Ascough been pro-choice and acted in the same manner, I am sure the whole incident would have gone unquestioned. We would not expect any political leader to break the law to justify national interest. Why then, all of a sudden, are we expecting our SU President to break the law because the majority of the student body is pro-choice? There is no problem with being pro-choice, but asking your SU President to face a potential conviction in the name of the pro-choice movement is problematic.

Ascough’s actions were assumed to be motivated by her pro-life beliefs, without any evidence of that being true

We live in an overwhelmingly liberal society, where tolerance for all perspectives and beliefs is supposed to be a priority. When someone is impeached for holding a belief that is converse to the majority, this idea of a ‘liberal society’ is called into question. Ascough’s actions were assumed to be motivated by her pro-life beliefs, without any evidence of that being true. Moreover, Ascough explicitly stated that she would not interfere with any issues to do with abortion, and that she would pass such responsibilities on to her peers. As SU President, Ascough had a responsibility to ensure that the Students’ Union represents the student body appropriately. Acting within the bounds of the law is within this responsibility and so it makes sense that an SU President would stop the circulation of information that is deemed illegal by the state.

Impeaching someone based on the fact that they have a differing belief to us is wrong. Assuming that they acted out of contempt without proof is wrong. Although it is a tradition at this stage, it is not the SU’s job to follow the zeitgeist and riskily promote certain stances. It comes down to one question: if you were in Ascough’s situation, potentially facing a €4000 fine because of the circulation of what is deemed illegal information, would you do it? It is easy to say that you would in a hypothetical situation, but it remains hard to believe that anyone would take that risk, when all of the information can be accessed freely and legally online.

Katie Ascough had a tough call to make. It was never going to be easy, considering the tension surrounding the abortion debate. However, expecting her to risk conviction and a personal fine is not acceptable, no matter the circumstance, and it was not fair to impeach her.

 

REBUTTAL by Dean Swift

It is true to say that Katie Ascough’s pro-life stance acted as a catalyst for the impeachment. However, a catalyst by definition is not a cause but merely something that accelerates a reaction. As stated, the students impeached her for numerous reasons, the most prominent being the removal of the information from the Winging It in UCD publication. To say that Ascough would not have noticed the material if not for the illegality is absurd as the information is a well-known fixture in the publication. Ascough stated that she would not interfere with issues relating to abortion, yet she did. These are the actions of someone with a personal agenda.

To claim that the student body would not have acted in a similar manner if Ascough were pro-choice is an understandable assumption, but there can be no hint of an alternative agenda whatsoever. If a pro-choice person president had left the information in regardless of the law, they would have supported the students’ ability to obtain information. If the material was removed, however, it would still cause uproar, and accountability would be demanded regardless of the individual’s beliefs. Citizens should expect politicians to break the law if it is of benefit to the public. Anyone running for office should have the strength to face challenges for the people they represent, and Ascough refused to fight to represent her student body.

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