UCDSU President Katie Ascough has released the letter she received from the Students’ Union lawyer Richard Hammond providing legal advice about the abortion information contained within the Winging It in UCD handbooks.
The move comes after Ascough released an open letter to the students of UCD yesterday evening. In the letter Ascough explains she sought legal advice “after the books were printed and delivered” when “a staff member pointed out various issues including potential illegality of the of some of the content.”
Ascough was the only sabbatical officer to be allowed receive legal advice from the union’s lawyer on the matter of the handbooks. According to Graduate Officer Niall Torris: “Sabbatical Officers were told that legal advice would only be given to the President or the COO [of the Union] but it would never be given to a Sabbatical Officer.”
Campaigns and Communications Officer Barry Murphy previously told the University Observer that prior to the re-printing of the handbooks: “The legal advice from our lawyer was passed to us from Katie, I only heard it from Katie. It really annoyed some sabbats that they couldn’t [hear] first-hand legal advice except through the president.”
Graduate Officer Niall Torris announced at SU Council this week that he met with Senator Ivana Bacik and received legal advice regarding the handbooks from her. Senator Bacik declined to comment on the matter saying: “it’s an internal matter, clearly, for the Students’ Union, and the students of UCD.”
Ascough is currently on leave from office while she is the subject of an impeachment referendum. The referendum will take place at the end of this month, Ascough is campaigning for a “No” vote.
The letter below is that which was circulated on her campaign page and therefore features the same highlighting. Some parts which are not highlighted however, may also be of note.
The letter refers to “Article 40..3.3 of the Irish Constitution (more commonly known as the Eighth Amendment.” The letter explains that section 3 of this amendment “prohibits the dissemination of information unless four seperate conditions are satisfied.” These conditions relate to whether the information is lawful, truthful, objective, and does not promote the obtaining of abortions. Richard Hammond explains then the while he cannot say so definitively, it would seem that the information is lawful, truthful, and objective. The promotion of “womenonweb.org” he says could be defended in court “but as the adage goes, when you are explaining you are losing.”
Hammond adds later that “Certainly one would hope that a prosecution would not follow on the basis that the information, though in breach of the Act, is not egregiously so.” He says that “knowingly” breaching the act is “not a course of action to be pursued lightly” but added “one would expect that the breach would need to be considered to be of a more serious nature to result in prosecution.”
In the final paragraph Hammond states “It is undoubtedly the case that UCDSU provides a valuable welfare service to students across a wide range of issues, including crisis pregnancies.”
The letter concludes “You do need to take a decision on the current handbook. The prudent course of action would be avoid proceeding with the current handbook, whether through redesign (if not too late) or cancellation.” Hammond does not recommend a a specific course of action but leaves the decision to SU President Katie Ascough. It’s also notable that he describes the cancelling the handbooks as “prudent” which could be seen as intelligent but also overly-cautious.