In April of this year, all but a few thousand people in the country couldn’t tell you who Katie Ascough, the now former UCD Student Union President was.
In fact, I’d say most students around the country would struggle to name even one student union president in any college or university in the country.
This morning though, Ascough is now a nationally-recognised name after she was impeached from her role last night, with 4,540 students believing that her own pro-life beliefs had affected her actions as president.
Whether you believe that she removed the now notorious information concerning access to abortion from Student Union magazine ‘Winging It’ because her own, personal views or a genuine fear of legal repercussions is now, to be honest, irrelevant.
What is relevant is the fact that this referendum saw the highest level of voting and engagement from students than any other election in UCD.
To put it in other words, the most hotly-contested election of any kind in the history of the UCDSU was held to remove a sabbatical officer, not elect one.
In a way, this isn’t surprising. For years now, issues concerning the eighth amendment and a woman’s right to choice in matters concerning her own body have always attracted attention, particularly the student demographic.
When you consider that, you’d argue that this was always going to have a high voter turnout. And it did; more students voted to keep Ascough in her role than the 1,200 who voted for her into the position in the first place back in March.
However, what I do have a concern with is the fact that UCD students knew what they were getting into when Ascough was fairly and democratically elected to in the first place.
Sure, the voter turnout was poor but if you don’t want to participate in student elections, do you really have the right to be outraged when an elected candidate turns out to do things you might not be in full agreement with?
What I’m talking about here isn’t simply a case of pro-life vs. pro-choice. Firstly, anyone is entitled to their own beliefs and this writer can definitely see logic behind the argument that a woman should, at the very least, be entitled to information concerning the matter.
Ascough was elected SU president despite already being a well-known pro-life campaigner and was even featured prominently campaigning against the marriage equality referendum in 2015. Students don’t come much more conservative than her.
On the other side, UCD students have already voted to declare themselves as a pro-choice union and student body. What kind of confused electorate would favour this and also elect one of the student faces of anti-abortion activism as the woman to represent them.
After the information from ‘Winging It’ was removed, questions were asked and rightfully so. Again, excluding your own moral and personal beliefs, Ascough hung the noose around her own neck when she removed information without the consultation of her fellow sabbatical officers, despite having already vowed to delegate issues concerning the union’s pro choice mandate.
What followed was what some described as a ‘witch-hunt’. It’s nothing we haven’t seen more; issues as personal to people as this is always going to bring out passionate, bordering on nasty, behaviour.
Where were the same people that all of a sudden had a thirst for Ascough’s blood the morning where they had a chance to elect a candidate more in line with the union’s beliefs? Was the walk from their bed to the polling stations too far?
UCD elected a pro-life campaigner; that much is indisputable. You’re naive if you believed that her own beliefs wouldn’t have at least a slight impact in the way things in the union were a run. She is a politican; would you believe Gerry Adams if he said his nationalist beliefs wouldn’t impact his role as Taoiseach?
It wasn’t until this happened that we decided to point the finger and when it comes down it all, UCD were right to point the finger. UCD were right to impeach Katie Ascough.
If you let your own beliefs get in the way of your mandate to students, you cannot lead. We can argue all day about ‘legal repercussions’ and criminal convictions’; what side you listen to will determine whether you think the action was worth the consequences. There’s just too much against Ascough here though to call it an objective decision.
When we’re done holding Ascough’s public burning at the political stake, maybe we should take a look at how we view student politics. These issues can clearly be circumvented before anyone is elected.
Don’t forget; this information that was removed can be Googled in the time it took to tweet ‘Katie Ascough is a disgrace’.
This impeachment has been seen as students becoming engaged in student politics; that’s not true.
People care about the 8th amendment, and that’s fine. They should be. But people clearly don’t care about student politics though, or this would have never even happened.