A new law has been signed by Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, allowing disabled students in higher education to continue to retain their disability allowance.
Minister Humphreys has signed off on these regulations to ensure PhD scholarship grants will not be assessed as part of the means test for disability allowance. This will allow disabled PhD students to accept scholarships without losing their allowance.
The Minister proposed that the law be known as “Catherine’s Law” after Catherine Gallagher, a postgraduate student at Dublin City University (DCU) whose case prompted its signing.
Gallagher is a prospective PhD student at DCU and received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Masters in Political Communications from the University, graduating top of her class in both.
After graduating from her Masters programme, Gallagher was offered a PhD scholarship at the University. However, she learned that if she accepted the €16,000 stipend as part of her scholarship, she would lose her disability allowance, as well as her travel pass and medical card.
The grant is provided to PhD students to cover the cost of accommodation, travel, and equipment. Gallagher stated in The Irish Times that if she were to accept the “very modest sum” of the grant and lose her disability allowance, she would fall well below the poverty line.
After Gallagher worked to contact her representatives and bring publicity to her case, Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh spoke about the issue in the Dáil, bringing further attention to the matter.
Speaking today, Minister Humphreys said: “Catherine’s case demonstrated to me that there was a clear unfairness in the system, which I have now removed through the signing of these regulations.”
Gallagher, commenting to the Irish Examiner on the regulation’s passing, said she was “completely taken aback” by the decision to name the new law in her honour, saying that the issue was “much bigger than one person”.
Further adding that: “I really feel for the students who have come before me, who haven’t been able to avail of this new legislation and who were penalised.”
She attributed the rapid signing of this law to the work of constructive advocacy: “The combination of constructive advocacy, media involvement and political communication, brought about rapid change – a new legislation by ministerial order – within a week.”
Isobel Dunne – Reporter