The crowd at Hustings giving a standing ovation to Amy Crean
“Starting from the beginning, I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about this, the Winging It books…” This was the opening of Katie Ascough’s closing statements at Hustings held on Tuesday evening ahead of the impeachment referendum.
A visibly emotional Ascough tells those present “a personal criminal record for the rest of my life is what some people have expected that I should give in to, that I should give in to that risk.”
“I have been pushed and manipulated so many times about why did I not make that decision. I really do not think it is fair to expect anyone to have to do that. I promised to respect the pro-choice mandate of the union. I never promised to risk a criminal record for the rest of my life.”
“People have been shying away from the Winging It story ever since I explained what happened. If I was pro-choice president, none of these questions would be coming my way, about things in my office being rearranged, about my little sister coming on campus to canvass for me.”
Regarding questions about office rearrangements, Ascough is referring to questions she has received regarding the removal of a Vote for ME (Marriage Equality) sign from her office.
The involvement of non-UCD students involved in Ascough’s campaign has been concerning to some students. The rules during referenda and elections usually state that non-UCD students are not permitted to be involved in canvassing on campus.
Ascough was questioned at Hustings regarding the involvement of her family and non-UCD students in her campaign. Ascough’s response was that upon checking with the returning officer she was told it was “okay to have friends” assist with her campaign.
The Returning Officer, Stephen Whelan, announced to the audience that it was acceptable for individuals to have “close friends or family” come to UCD to “speak on their behalf.”
During Hustings, the audience did not shy away from issues surrounding Winging It. Ascough was asked if she was aware that the current Winging It book is still liable to legal fines and had she shown the latest draft of the Winging It handbook to the UCDSU lawyer.
Ascough’s first response was to rehash her telling of the Winging It scandal after which she admitted she did not show the latest draft to a lawyer.
She continues, and explains that Richard Hammond “actually sent on his own version of what could go into the handbook and it was much, much less than what I put in.”
Ascough disputes that the “legal draft” provided by Campaigns and Communications Officer was legal. “While it has been said that it was legal, it still contained some prices in it, and I am definitely not convinced that it was legal.”
The University Observer received information that it was Ascough who originally raised concerns about the Winging It handbook to a member of staff.
The staff member in question has said: “I did point out that any retrospective changes to the handbook held greater risk to the reputation of the Union and outweighed any potential monetary fines for breach of the Abortion Information Act.” “I still hold firm on that initial advice.”
Additionally, the University Observer has learned that prior to requesting the legal letter from SU lawyer Richard Hammond, a telephone conversation took place between Ascough, Hammond, and the staff member in question.
When questioned, Ascough could not recall the contents of that phonecall.
Information provided to the University Observer states that in that first phonecall, Hammond said “as the book was already in print, if we were calling to ask if he could defend, he confirmed, as any good solicitor would, he could defend. He noted the potential areas of breach also pointed out and confirmed the chances of a case were extremely low as since the act, no one has actually been charged.”
Amy Crean, speaking on behalf of the impeachment campaign raised the issue of discussions Ascough has had regarding abortion matters have not been minuted. Crean was referring to a request Ascough made to a staff member of the union to remove Winging It from the UCDSU website as it contained illegal abortion information.
Ascough addressed this and said “There was an issue where the Winging It book from last year was still online. People on Facebook were saying ‘this is so contradictory to the decision Katie made, why is the illegal content still online?’ I simply emailed a staff member asking if we could take it down.”
Speaking at Hustings, Ascough said she has not been treated fairly.
“I feel like it’s not very fair. Would you impeach someone for following legal advice and for not risking a personal criminal conviction, and fines, for themselves and others? “
“I originally delegated this book to another sabbatical officer, but I could not delegate a criminal conviction once the legality came to light, I couldn’t change that, that’s not in my power to change.”
After the scandal with Winging It broke, Ascough said “I was trying to hold the union together. Unfortunately some of my team members went to the papers behind my back and things were said, just one thing after another thing.”
“I have done the best that I could with the circumstances that I had.”
Ascough was questioned about how she could return to working with the remaining sabbatical officers if the impeachment fails. Three sabbatical officers have vocalised their support for Ascough’s impeachment, with the remaining officer supporting their decision to campaign for impeachment.
Ascough responded saying: “I really love this job and I would love to continue doing my best to represent UCD students on a wide range of issues.
“If I win this impeachment referendum, I am fully committed to come back in on Friday, 9am to 9pm, just like normal and working hard to do all the things I was elected to do and also to bring the team together. I fully believe that we can still be a strong team.”
Voting in the impeachment referendum takes place today and tomorrow, October 25th and 26th.