‘Catherine’s Law’ will remove barrier facing PhD students with disabilities

‘Catherine’s Law’ will remove barrier facing PhD students with disabilities

Catherine Gallagher successfully fought to change the system and will retain her disability allowance while taking up a third-level scholarship.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys has signed new regulations into law that will remove a barrier facing PhD students with disabilities after the Irish Examiner highlighted the case of Catherine Gallagher.

Catherine Gallagher, aged 23, was awarded a scholarship to pursue a doctorate for Dublin City University (DCU) after coming first in her masters course.

However, after contacting the Department of Social Protection, she learned that she would lose her disability allowance and associated travel and medical card allowances if she accepted the €16,000 stipend as part of the scholarship.

Today, Minister Humphreys signed new regulations which will ensure that scholarship awards for PhD students are excluded from the means test for Disability Allowance (DA).

The new law, known as ‘Catherine’s Law’ will mean scholarship awards for PhD students will no longer be assessed as income in the Disability Allowance means test.

This measure will be effective from September 1 of last year.

Catherine Gallagher (23) from Achill Island was offered a scholarship to pursue a doctorate on the topic ‘Journalism and Political Communication Response to Covid 19 in Ireland’ after coming first in her Masters course in DCU.
Catherine Gallagher (23) from Achill Island was offered a scholarship to pursue a doctorate on the topic ‘Journalism and Political Communication Response to Covid 19 in Ireland’ after coming first in her Masters course in DCU.

Speaking after signing the regulations, the minister 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.” 

“This will mean that students like Catherine can continue with their scholarships and still retain their Disability Allowance payment.” 

“I think it is only appropriate in light of Catherine’s hard work in highlighting this issue, that this legislation is known as ‘Catherine’s Law’.” 

Speaking to the Irish Examiner today, Ms Gallagher said the news was "absolutely fantastic."

"The timing of it is actually so fitting," she added, "because I received my parchment for my master's degree in the post today."

Ms Gallagher said she was completely taken aback by the decision to call the new legislation 'Catherine's Law' and said this was an issue that was "much bigger" than one person.

"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."

Ms Gallagher, who will be studying political communication as part of her PhD, said her case was an example 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."

"That is to me, from my area of study, is fascinating and I really hope down the line that students might consider this as a case study!"

The minister said she wished to thank Catherine for her advocacy and said the Government wants to encourage and help people with disabilities to further their education and remove any barriers in their way.

“Along with Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, I intend to meet with key stakeholders such as the Disability Federation of Ireland, AHEAD Ireland and the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) to discuss this further in the coming weeks,” she said.

Ms Gallagher said it's been a tough few weeks for her, but now she's finally able to look forward to doing what she loves.

"I have some of my books in front of me here to start my research, and I'm just really looking forward to starting and just doing what I want to do which is my research."

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