When UCD is mentioned in conversation, former Alumni may hold back a tear and think of better times, while others may simply shrug and get on with their busy big boy jobs. Well as a UCD Alumni, in the past few weeks, listening to the news daily as I do, I do not feel any sense of nostalgia, nor distain, simply confusion. How has the UCD Community become so lost, and to a point, so uninterested? College is supposed to be the highlight of one’s youth – I know it was for me.
My point is this, there is something wrong with UCD, from the top right to the bottom, that has changed the place drastically in the 10 years since my graduation. If I were to start listing all the broken components of this former glorious institution, I would be here far too long. So let’s focus on the issue at hand – the issue that has polluted our airways for the past few weeks regarding the Students’ Union and it’s presidential crisis.
I would prefer not to share who I am. What I can tell you is I have been directly involved in UCD life for the past 15 years, when I began college in my beloved UCD. In this time, I have obtained much information and many troubling secrets about the SU and the college community. My aim is not to become an infamous whistleblower or create scandal after scandal – I do not believe in kicking an opponent while they are down. What’s more is I don’t see any one individual in this fight as an opponent. My aim here is to attempt to highlight the facts in what has become a circus of insults and bias opinions. The fragmented institutions of UCD and UCDSU have been caused by the minority, no doubt – but the minority may not be what or who you think they are. For now, let’s focus on the SU.
“This event could greatly effect someone’s life – please do not make this decision based on a spiteful, anonymous gesture, but on the hard evidence. Let’s look at that evidence.”
UCDSU President Katie Ascough is facing a vote on impeachment for her decision to remove abortion material from a guide book being distributed at the start of the year. The fact that Katie is a well known Pro-Life supporter and aspiring candidate is as much evidence as most Left Wing Union supporters require to start sharpening their pitch forks. This whole process of impeachment has not happened in the history of UCD Students’ Union, so before you make your decision on which way you vote, know you will be making history, one way or the other. The other greatly important factor that has to be considered is make your decision on facts, nothing more. In this case, you, the student, are judge, jury and executioner. This event could greatly effect someone’s life – please do not make this decision based on a spiteful, anonymous gesture, but on the hard evidence. Let’s look at that evidence.
The primary reason being reported for the impeachment process focuses on the President’s decision to remove abortion related material from the SU handbook, a well published guide to UCD which has been in existence for decades. This guide always contains questionable material, from guides on how to pick up girls in my day, to a step by step walkthrough on how to remove a clamp in last year’s edition. It is also important to note that last year’s edition contained more abortion information than this year’s publication. The decision was made following legal advice from the SU solicitor, Mr Richard Hammond, according to Ms Ascough. I’ve known Richard for years. He represents many SUs around the country, and also USI if I am not mistaken. Richard knows student politics like few others, being a former Sabbatical Officer himself. I would trust the advice of that individual if I were a newly elected president. If that is the case, than few could blame Katie for taking the decision she made. However, was that the advice given? That this was illegal material, substantially different to any other distributed by the Students’ Union in previous recent years? I’ve heard debates over the whole retraction issue and a letter from the solicitor has surfaced summarising the advice, but has anyone asked the SU in person? Asked the staff? The other sabbatical officers? They all know the story and their version of events do not line up with Katie’s, so someone is lying. Ivana Bacik, a well respected politician, solicitor and former SU representative has defended the content. On this basis, surely a request of this information to SU senior management can clarify what advice was given and did Ms. Ascough act in line with that advice – the advice on the day in question, not the retrospective mail. That evidence, one way or the other, should be the defining factor in determining your vote in the impeachment process.
“Surely a request of this information to SU senior management can clarify what advice was given and did Ms. Ascough act in line with that advice – the advice on the day in question, not the retrospective mail.”
Another factor to consider is a sensitive matter, and one I have not seen documented before. These are my own views, but look at the evidence and make up your own mind. I am greatly concerned by the state of the Union currently. I am not as involved now as I was in previous years but I can strongly say morale is low amongst the employees and work goes overlooked in the midst of this drawn out scandal. I still keep in touch with some staff members and they can attest to this. The golden days of on campus entertainment and college like behaviour similar to an American Pie movie are gone. Today, UCD is a shadow of its former self, and the Students’ Union has fallen in line. To avoid continuing debt, the Union was converted into a Limited Company. This combined with professionalisation of key roles and the implementation of key staff members to support the Sabbatical Officers brought stabilisation to the Union. The period that followed featured dramatic cutbacks, effecting the Union’s ability to invest in being involved in the average student’s life. Within two years, engagement levels with the SU plummeted, with record low rep numbers. Demotivated Sabbatical Officers working for a movement which was changing from an amateur organisation to the real world, with real world consequences, with their aspirations hampered by budget cuts.
I’d like to say this UCD Students’ Union has come a long way since then. It has, but nothing has changed. The Union is healthy financially. It has hosted some amazing events, produced great campaigns and been ever present in peoples lives on campus. It has been doing a great job. So going back to when I mentioned low morale and a genuine concern for the Union, why is this when the bad days are behind you? Perhaps because a different threat is now lurking. A threat that comes with the responsibility of being more than just a Union; a company. A unique company, and the biggest in the country in its field. That can be pretty powerful, and if you were the president of that company, you could be pretty influential, right? I mean, you are a controversial, active Pro-Life candidate, leading the UCD community in the year of potentially a massive socially important referendum on abortion. You are bound to make the news sooner or later. Oh and did I mention your dad sits on the board of the IONA Institute? I mean, that makes sense right?! It concerns me that there is now political movements deliberately attempting to influence our Student movements. My final piece of evidence is the SU President Katie.
“Today, UCD is a shadow of its former self, and the Students’ Union has fallen in line.”
Have you ever talked to Katie? Spent any time with her? I can tell you I have. I must say, she is incredibly warm, welcoming, pleasant and easy to talk to. She is mostly very professional and it is clear she has the makings of the characteristics of a true politician. However, with all due respect, she does not seem to me to be the type of person to be making the decisions she is making on her own – big decisions – smart decisions – political decisions. This is what concerns me greatly. From her first few days in office, it was clear to many involved to the Union that this was going to be a stepping stone for her and for the movement she represents. Under the constitution of the Union, it forbids current Sabbatical Officers to utilise their position to further their own political agenda or aspirations. So why is the Facebook page “Katie Ascough – UCDSU President” regularly sending out invites for likes, posting videos, photos and updates regarding SU events, prepared by the SU team but credited to Katie? This is an insult to the hardworking staff and other Sabbats of the SU – most of them you may know and hopefully you are equally outraged. No other Sabbatical Officer in my 10 year memory had the nerve to so openly promote themselves, and not the office they were elected to. Again, have you talked to Katie? This is not her, which begs the question, who is making the decisions for the SU? If you need any further evidence of this, look at the materials produced by both sides of this referendum. The Yes to impeachment side are self funded and their design and promotional materials show it. Then look at the No side, Katie’s side. The professional content being delivered, from designs to promotional videos and TED X like talks on how the SU has betrayed her, does this look like the work of an average student or a political movement? I’ll leave you to make your own mind up, but it would not surprise me in the least if Mummy and Daddy were on speed dial – just ask the other Sabbatical officers – they may mention a number of times where parents were called to obtain advice.
“All the drama surrounding the SU President has greatly impacted the four other SU Officers who fought desperately last March to obtain their respective positions. You could not find a nicer group of young men who generally want to put this drama behind them and get on with the job.”
One final point. There are five Sabbatical Officers elected every year. All the drama surrounding the SU President has greatly impacted the four other SU Officers who fought desperately last March to obtain their respective positions. You could not find a nicer group of young men who generally want to put this drama behind them and get on with the job. This entire process is impacting their ability in doing their job and achieving their goals as set out in their manifesto. While many question their role and guilt in this debacle, the fact remains that these four voices have earned and deserve to do their job on the manifesto they ran on, and Katie’s current actions have greatly impacted that. Maybe Katie is right – they are all sexist and made her role unattainable. However, I implore you, if you genuinely think this is the case, go ask ANYONE in the SU corridor off the record, and they will tell you what is going on. Again, someone is lying, and if every person who works for an organisation has an opinion contrary to the story the President is telling, who is to trust?
One thing is for certain, whatever the result of this referendum, there is only one winner – Katie. If the impeachment is successful, the former president is the girl who was bullied from her office and tried to fight back. She will be a martyr to the pro-life cause and by becoming so, has used the office to further her own political career. If the impeachment fails, Katie is the strong hero who fought back, and won. And again, has successfully boosted her career. Hate created this anomaly. Hate and frustration from a Left Wing minority in UCD who chose to rush the issue rather than collect the evidence and build a case. I implore, remove emotion from your decision. Stick to the facts, and hopefully justice will be served.
So back to the issue at hand, the impeachment. I implore you to look at the facts and make your decision purely on these issues:
1. Did the SU President accurately interpret the advice of the SU Solicitor with regard to the publication of the Union’s guide book?
2. Is the SU President directly in charge of your Union, or do you have no confidence in your President or her motives in doing the job as dictated by the SU Constitution?
3. Did the SU President choose to ignore historical evidence of pro choice mandates to safe face with her Pro Life supporters?
4. Did the SU President, other than inferences through media, report any incidences of sexual harassment or bullying to IADB or the SU Board?
I leave the decision to you.
Editor’s note: An edit has been made to this article to remove any mention of NUI Maynooth’s Students’ Union President Leon Diop.
In a statement to the University Observer, Diop has said “You recently received a letter from an alumnus, stating that I was “close compatriots to Katie’s cause” and published it. This is without any contact with me or my SU. The letter is very misleading and insinuates that I may have some hidden agenda against my mandates which I absolutely do not have.