Student with disability wins case to retain State payments while studying for PhD

Catherine Gallagher lobbied Government to overturn decision

Catherine Gallagher

Catherine Gallagher

 

A student with a disability who was offered a scholarship to pursue a PhD will not lose her disability supports following a review.

Catherine Gallagher, 23, was awarded a scholarship to pursue a doctorate for Dublin City University after coming first in her master’s course.

Ms Gallagher is a graduate of DCU in journalism and recently completed her MA in political communication where she got a first-class honours. She intends to study responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in the media for her PhD.

Last week Ms Gallagher wrote an article for The Irish Times stating that she was no longer eligible for disability supports if she accepted the €16,000 stipend as part of the scholarship.

She has a condition known as congenital scoliosis alongside a non-progressive muscular disorder and arthrogryposis (an abnormality of the joints) which limits her movements.

‘Devastated’

Writing in The Irish Times last week, Ms Gallagher stated: “I found out that if I were to accept the scholarship on its original terms I would lose all of my disability allowance and secondary supports associated with that.

“I was devastated. The shock made me feel weak at the knees. I immediately sought a review from the deciding officer at the Department of Social Protection. The reply said the decision was unchanged. The scholarship grant would be viewed as means if I were to accept it. I would lose everything that helps me to stay afloat and survive.

“A scholarship grant for a PhD is a very modest sum. It is meant to alleviate the cost of PhD studies: for rent, equipment, materials, publishing work, travel and so on. Once it is safe for me to do so, I will be back living in campus accommodation, to be near my learning spaces, academic resources, training and teaching. Most of the grant will go towards this.

“I hope I don’t need to remind people of the hidden costs of being disabled, also. If I were to accept the scholarship grant and lose my disability payment, I would be well below the poverty line. I cannot physically work on top of my studies. That is the reality. This is the penalty I am handed down for trying to better myself and to carve out a career. I am penalised for playing to my strengths.”

Following her article in The Irish Times, the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys tweeted that she had spoken to Ms Gallagher after the case was brought to her attention.

Ms Humphreys stated that she will be signing regulations to fix the situation so that she can continue with her scholarship and keep her disability payment.