The Minister for Social Protection has confirmed to RTÉ News that Mayo student Catherine Gallagher will not lose her disability allowance as a result of winning a PhD scholarship.
Heather Humphreys said she will sign regulations this week that will ensure that these awards will no longer be assessed as income in the Disability Allowance means test.
Ms Gallagher began a campaign to raise awareness of her plight and called on various Government departments to remove what she describes as 'this barrier to education' by forcing her to turn down the scholarship in order to hold onto her allowances.
Spoke to ??@Cather_i_ne? yesterday morning when this was first brought to my attention. Glad to ring back tonight to confirm I will be signing regs to fix this situation so that she can continue with her scholarship & keep her Disability Payment. https://t.co/TLjHe8wvhi— Heather Humphreys (@HHumphreysFG) March 5, 2021
For the past year Ms Gallagher has been remote learning at home in Achill. Walking on the beach near Dugort village is a favourite way to relax.
Ms Gallagher has a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Political Communications from Dublin City University where she came top of her class.
She was subsequently offered a PhD scholarship but her delight was short lived.
Ms Gallagher soon learned from that if she were to accept the €16,000 stipend that comes with the scholarship, she would be stripped of her Disability Allowance, Travel Pass and most likely her medical card.
The grant is seen to help alleviate the costs incurred of doing a PhD, including campus accommodation, in the region of €10,500 a year.
Ms Gallagher says it is a very modest stipend to cover the cost of rent, travel, equipment. If she accepts it she says the Department of Social Protection will remove her vital Government supports.
"I am shocked, appalled and lost for words that I have to engage in such a battle to continue my pathway in education. I believe I can provide meaningful contributions in my research and career.
"If I accept the grant and lose my supports which are vital, I will be well below the poverty line. The system is not prepared or expecting people like me to progress academically."
Ms Gallagher took on the system and wrote to Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris and Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys.
All going well, she hopes to pursue a doctorate on the topic 'Journalism and Political Communication Response to Covid-19 in Ireland'.
"The issue is time sensitive and if I were to wait for years the topic would become stagnant in my data collection process, so in order for me to register I am completely forfeiting the €16,000 stipend to let me start.
"I'm lucky to have a family to support me. Otherwise I would be kicking my heels with a heavy heart. But I feel very strongly about this deeply systemic issue. The other thing I feel very strongly about is the report currently being prepared by the State to the UN on the convention of people with disabilities and that is the bible of approaches that the country should adopt to facilitate people like myself."