The recipient of the Westminster Award is chosen by the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and the Trustees of Right To Life, having taken advice from senior MPs and Peers in both Houses of the Westminster Parliament.
Katie Ascough (2018)
Elected as USCSU President in March last year on a platform to improve issues like student mental health and accommodation, Ascough was attacked from the beginning of her candidacy for her pro-life beliefs, which she had held strongly since her mother miscarried when Ascough was 15 years old, and she had held the 13-week-old body of her sibling. This eye-opening encounter made Ascough feel compelled to protect all human life, and in 2016 she campaigned against the renewal of UCDSU’s official position in favour of repealing the Irish Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of unborn children.
Threats to impeach Ascough for her right-to-life convictions went back to her Election, but became a reality when she had a page containing information on abortion access removed from the UCDSU Fresher’s magazine, Winging It, after receiving legal advice that it may have been illegal. As CEO of the Union, Ascough would have been legally responsible, and potentially risked a criminal record.
Other Sabbatical officers disagreed with Ascough, and a campaign for her impeachment was started. In October last year, a vote on her removal saw 6,572 out of the over 30,000 UCD students vote. Of these, 4,540 voted to impeach Ascough, whilst 2,032 voted against removing her as head of the Union.
In her speech after the vote, Ascough said:
“This is a sad day for me, but it is also a sad day for our university.
University should a place of freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of association. Fairness, respect for those who don’t wish to break the law, and respect for others with different beliefs, are critical to debate and intellectual freedom on campus.
While I am deeply saddened at the outcome of today’s vote, and that so many students would impeach me, and find me guilty of breaking the law, I hope we can build an atmosphere of fairness, of conversation and of openness, to people who might not fit the stereotypical SU President image”.
Since her impeachment, Ascough has spoken in favour of freedom to speak and to associate on campus for those with views that do not reflect the Student Union orthodoxy, such as right-to-lifers, becoming a symbol of the difficulties and determination of the student right-to-life movement. Ascough has also signalled her intention to campaign in favour of Ireland retaining the Eighth Amendment.
Right To Life will be giving her the Westminster Award for her integrity, courage, and public witness in favour of the open society, and the equality and right to life of unborn children.
Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, OBE (2017)
The second recipient of the Westminster Award was Scottish charity leader Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, and the Award Ceremony took place in February of that year at the Palace of Westminster. You can view pictures of this occasion on the RTL Flickr account, here.
With his brother Fergus, MacFarlane-Barrow started efforts in 1992 during the conflict in the Balkans after the breakup of the state of Yugoslavia. The two brothers were both fish-farmers in their mid-to-late-twenties when, touched by the plight of those affected by the conflict, they began a local appeal for food and blankets. They then drove to Bosnia with a jeep filled with the cargo they received and kept in their parents’ shed, and delivered it to those in need.
When they returned, they found that more donations had come in, and so Magnus took a year out from his job to continue delivering the aid. The donations never stopped however, and so Magnus took on his project full time, turning it into a charity initially named ‘Scottish International Relief’ and recently renamed ‘Mary’s Meals’.
In the 25 years that the charity will have been going by the end of 2017, it has become a school feeding charity, working with some of the world’s poorest communities to set up school feeding programmes, which enable children to come to school and gain an education that can offer a route out of poverty. In 2015, the number of children served by Mary’s Meals reached the milestone of 1,000,000.
Fiona Bruce MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and a Patron of Right To Life, said that:
“Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow exemplifies what the Westminster Award aims to celebrate: the valuing and active safeguarding of human life. By his efforts, and those of Mary’s Meals, many people have been delivered from hunger and malnutrition. The basic right of every human person to the essential elements of life, is part-and-parcel of their right to life itself, and fundamental in respecting their human dignity”.
Chen Guangcheng (2013)
The first recipient was the blind Chinese human rights lawyer and campaigner Chen Guangcheng, for his heroic work defending the rights of women and children who were being victimised by the implementation of the Government of China’s population control policies.
Chen, a lawyer from northeast China who overcame his sight impairment to teach himself law, became an icon of human rights activism against the Chinese Government when in 2005, seeing the brutal abuse of women and children by the implementation of the One Child policy, he brought a groundbreaking lawsuit in 2005 against its illegal enforcement in the Shandong province.
State officials retaliated by kidnapping him and sentencing him to over four years in prison. Even after he was released, he was kept under house arrest with his wife and two children who with him were subjected to beatings and forbidden outside contact. In 2012, Chen managed to escape by feigning illness and climbing over the wall surrounding his house at night.
Despite not being able to see, he travelled over countryside, and with the help of fellow human rights activists was able to make it to the U.S. Embassy. After a month of negotiation, he was allowed to travel to America, where he has since continued to advocate for human rights and the rule of law to be respected in China.