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Achill PhD student delighted by U-turn on disability allowance

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‘HUGELY POSITIVE NEWS’ Catherine Gallagher.

Catherine Gallagher risked losing her disability allowance if she accepted scholarship


Anton McNulty

AN Achill student who faced losing her disability allowance by accepting a PhD scholarship was surprised by the speed of the U-turn.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys contacted Achill student Catherine Gallagher in Friday evening to tell her she will not lose her disability allowance by accepting the scholarship to DCU.
The 23 year old from Askill on Achill Island has a BA in Journalism and an MA in Political Communications.
She was awarded the scholarship to pursue a doctorate for Dublin City University after coming first in her Masters course.
However, after making enquiries, she was informed by the Department of Social Protection that if she was to accept the €16,000 grant that comes with the scholarship, she would immediately be stripped of all of her disability allowances, including her travel pass and possibly even her medical card.
Catherine suffers from congenital scoliosis alongside a non-progressive muscular disorder and arthrogryposis. She was appalled to think she would be forced to choose between advancing her academic career or staying above the poverty line.
Good news
Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh raised her plight in the Dáil last week, and her story was picked up by a number of national media outlets. Catherine herself spoke to Midwest Radio during the week.
Following this, she spoke to Minister Humphreys on Thursday. By Friday evening, she received the good news that her disability allowance will not be affected if she takes the scholarship.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Catherine said she was surprised by how quickly the matter was resolved.
“I wasn’t expecting any news on Friday because I spoke to the Minister on Thursday and I was not sure how it would play out. There was a lot going on behind the scenes, and politically it went up the chain very quickly. When I got the call on Friday, I nearly couldn’t believe it … but I think it was in everyone’s interest to rectify this.
“While it is hugely positive news, we still have to wait [to see] what the regulations say, but if it rectifies what I had been highlighting last week it will be a major breakthrough,” she said. Minister Humphreys issued a ministerial order to change the legislation as a matter of urgency. It is hoped the amended legislation will be signed into law next week.

Long-time issue
According to Catherine, many disability students have been denied the opportunity to advance their academic education because of this legislation. She feels it should have been changed long before now.
“This was a long-standing issue, but when I first learned about it I felt strongly about it and the public needed to know. My background in media probably helped me to communicate as effectively as I could and to communicate that with politicians.
“I feel for the people who missed out before me. But if it works out, it sends a clear message that we want disabled people in post-graduated education and we want them to get their master’s and doctorates. It can only be a good thing,” she said.Encouraging politicians to listen to the disabled voice, Catherine thanked local Oireachtas members Rose Conway-Walsh, Lisa Chambers and Alan Dillon for raising the matter. “That speaks of the power of cross-party support and to me that’s good politics.”