Katie Ascough, former President of UCDSU. Photo Source: The Irish Times.
Orla Traynor, Opinions Editor.
As many of us now know, UCD Students’ Union President, Katie Ascough was impeached this Friday after a tense referendum campaign. The rhetoric Ascough put forth throughout her campaign and in her final speech as President that her impeachment was somehow incongruous with “freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of association.” This narrative is plainly untrue, and the impeachment should be celebrated as a victory for student democracy.
Calls for Ascough’s resignation began after she chose to remove a pro-choice article regarding abortion information from the UCDSU magazine, ‘Winging It.’ Ascough has maintained that she removed the article as she feared legal reproach for both her personally and the university. However, the way in which she did so raises questions about her proclaimed dedication to freedom of speech.
A re-draft of the article which contained the same information but was phrased in such a way so as not to incur legal consequences was submitted by UCDSU’s Campaigns and Communications Officer, Barry Murphy. Ascough made the ‘executive decision,’ the University Observer reports, to replace it with her own draft, which omitted any information about abortion pricing in other countries, without seeking any legal advice.
Ascough is staunchly anti-abortion yet pledged to remain neutral on the issue during her presidency. Censorship of such an article does not exactly give the impression of neutrality. In addition, the UCD student body had explicitly voted to support the Repeal the Eighth campaign. There is no doubt that Ascough prioritised her personal politics in favour of representing the student body – what she was elected to do.
All too often, ‘freedom of speech,’ is becoming an escape clause for those who wish to espouse hatred or silence others. In this case, the students of UCD have seen through a flimsy argument. The impeachment campaign saw the highest student voter participation in several years, ending with a result of 4,540 students in favour of impeachment with 2,032 voting against. Katie Ascough was democratically elected, and ultimately, democratically dismissed.
For us as Queen’s students, and for others across the UK and Ireland, we should find this result empowering and heartening. We have the power to shape our Student Unions into what we want them to be.