Katherine Zappone

Katherine Zappone (/zæˈpn/; born 25 November 1953) is an Irish Independent politician who has served as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs since May 2016. She has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-West constituency since 2016. She was a Senator from 2011 to 2016, upon being Nominated by the Taoiseach.

Katherine Zappone

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Assumed office
6 May 2016
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Leo Varadkar
Preceded byJames Reilly
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
February 2016
ConstituencyDublin South-West
In office
25 May 2011  26 February 2016
ConstituencyNominated by the Taoiseach
Personal details
Born (1953-11-25) 25 November 1953
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
CitizenshipIrish and American (dual citizenship)[1]
Political partyIndependent
Ann Louise Gilligan
(m. 2003; died 2017)
Alma mater

She was nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, to the 24th Seanad in 2011,[2][3] having been recommended by Eamon Gilmore, the then leader of Fine Gael's coalition partners, the Labour Party.[4][5] With her Seanad nomination, she became the first openly lesbian member of the Oireachtas and the first member in a recognised same-sex relationship.

She was elected to the Dáil for the Dublin South-West constituency at the 2016 general election, becoming the first openly lesbian TD and, by her own reckoning, the world's 32nd lesbian to be elected to a national parliament.[6] In May 2016, after a delay in government formation, due to prolonged talks in which she played her part, Zappone became Ireland's first openly lesbian government Minister and the first Minister to have been openly gay at the time of appointment to cabinet, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointed her as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

Personal life

Born in Seattle, Washington, in 1953.[7] Zappone was educated at Boston College (PhD), The Catholic University of America (MA) and University College Dublin (MBA).[7] She became an Irish citizen in 1995.[8] She and her wife, Ann Louise Gilligan, founded An Cosán which supports individuals and communities to actively engage in the process of social change through transformative education.[9] In Zappone and Gilligan v. Revenue Commissioners (2006), they unsuccessfully sought recognition in the High Court, for their Canadian marriage in Ireland. Zappone was a member of the Irish Human Rights Commission, chief executive of the National Women's Council of Ireland, and a lecturer in the fields of ethics, theology, and education at Trinity College, Dublin.[10] Though they were already married in Canada, Zappone proposed to Ann Louise Gilligan on air as the positive result in the same-sex marriage referendum became known.[11] Gilligan died in June 2017.

An Cosán

An Cosán is an organisation in Jobstown, Tallaght, which offers adult education and other services to women from disadvantaged areas,[12] and is Ireland's largest community education organisation.[13] It currently supports over 1,000 families annually.[14] According to The Irish Times, An Cosán "was established by Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone with the intention of bringing valuable community-based education to the Dublin suburb. In 2012, An Cosán attempted to track the progress of 1,500 past students and found 1,200 were employed."[15]

Speaking at an event for International Women's Day in 2010, then Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin, paid tribute to the work done by the women in An Cosán. "They are involved in education courses and communication and childcare and bettering themselves and their children, and they are making a big contribution".[16] Speaking about founding An Cosán, Zappone said "Imagine creating something like An Cosan together with the community. You really feel like you're bringing about some change for the good. Why wouldn't you want to do it?"[17]


An Cosán also runs Fledglings, which operates eight preschools around the country – mostly in disadvantaged areas – which provide education and care to more than 250 children.[18] Senator Lynn Ruane, President of Trinity College Students' Union, is a graduate.[19][20] who at age 16, was a participant on the first Young Women's Programme;[21] Ruane has said that: "An Cosán had its finger on the pulse and responded to a surge of teenage pregnancy in the west Tallaght area, taking into account of what was needed to support young mothers and their participation. Key in that was Rainbow House where my daughter, Jordanne, started out the early years in her life and I began to heal, learn and believe again. An Cosán was the beginning and remains the foundation of my journey so far. Somebody created an opportunity for me, met my needs, and empowered me to progress."[22]

Zappone v. Revenue Commissioners

In November 2004, Zappone and Gilligan were granted leave by the High Court, to pursue a claim to have their September 2003 Vancouver marriage recognised for the filing of joint tax returns in Ireland.[23] The case was heard in October 2006.[24] The judgment[25] was delivered in December 2006.[26] and found that common law and the Irish constitution had envisaged marriage to be between a man and a woman.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court in February 2007.[27] It came before the Supreme Court in 2012,[28] although returned to the High Court to challenge different elements of law, specifically the Civil Registration Act of 2004 and Civil Partnership Act of 2010.[29]

Political career

Seanad Éireann (2011–2016)

Nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, to the 24th Seanad in 2011, Zappone was a member of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.[30]

In December 2014, she voted against the Water Services Bill, and spoke about the "people's right to water in a fair, affordable, efficient and effective manner".[31] She also took part in a protest in Tallaght opposing the government's handling of water charges, at which she "noted that some were not opposed to water charge but had serious concerns about the way in which they were being implemented and the speed at which they were being rolled out",[32] and said "there was public anger about the mistakes made relating to Irish Water".[33][34]

Zappone also spoke about the housing problem in South Dublin, highlighting that "there were 173 people homeless in the South Dublin County Council area. She said "either the Government analyses of these problems are wrong or incomplete or the political ideologies that direct its solutions are insipid, vacuous of original vision, or simply outdated"."[35]

Zappone began working on amendments to the Gender Recognition Bill.[36] After Zappone sought to amend the Gender Recognition Legislation, Minister of State Kevin Humphreys, accepted the principle of a Seanad amendment to have the legislation recognising the identity of transgender people reviewed.[37] During Seanad debate, Zappone highlighted that it was regrettable it had taken successive Irish governments more than 20 years to legislate for gender recognition.[38]

Zappone stated that "the Tallaght Garda District must receive its fair share of new recruits and vehicles being made available to the force in the coming weeks".[39] The following month she confirmed that she had received confirmation that the local Garda district was to receive 13 new cars after communication with the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.[40]

In April 2015, Zappone raised the One-Parent Family Payment changes in the Seanad, highlighting that "single parents want their parental responsibility recognised, while some want access to full-time education with proper State support for their children".[41]

Marriage Equality referendum

Zappone was a prominent campaigner for the Yes campaign in Ireland's Marriage Equality referendum,[42][43][44] featuring on an RTÉ Primetime debate,[45] helping YesEquality as a voluntary adviser,[46][47] taking part in debates,[48] and campaigning for a Yes vote.[49] On 22 May 2015, she spoke about how she believed Irish people would "vote Yes for equality; for a Republic of equals, a Republic of love".[50][51] On 23 May 2015, Zappone asked her wife Ann Louise Gilligan live on air to remarry her in Ireland now that it had voted yes to marriage equality.[52][53][54] She described how she was "feeling emotional from the top all the way down to my toes".[55][56]

Dáil Éireann (2016–present)

In June 2015, Zappone announced she would contest the next general election as an Independent candidate in the Dublin South-West constituency. Confirming her decision to run, Senator Zappone added: "Since the end of last year, it has been a privilege to engage with local people in Dublin South West ahead of the Marriage Referendum. Together with my spouse, Ann Louise Gilligan, and the team of Yes Equality supporters we received a fantastic welcome on the doorsteps, at shopping centres, and at community events. It was clear that people in Dublin South West believe in equality; however, it was also evident that they are weary of old school politics which has led to years of austerity, unfair cuts, and disillusionment."[57]

She was the final candidate elected to the Dáil for the Dublin South-West constituency in the 2016 general election, following a full recount.[58][59] In the third round of voting for Taoiseach, Zappone voted in favour of Enda Kenny.[60]

Zappone was embroiled in controversy after being elected as allegations surfaced regarding her claiming excessive amounts for mileage expenses. On 24 March 2016, The Sunday Times reported that the former senator stands to earn €80,000 over the next five years from these expenses as she claims to live more than 25 km from Leinster House. The paper, however, reports AA’s Route Planner puts the distance at less than 22 km. During her time in the Seanad, Zappone was paid expenses on the basis that she lived farther than 25 km from Leinster House. It is understood she has submitted documentation to the Oireachteas again claiming her normal place of residence is farther than 25 km from the Dail.[61]

In May 2016, Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointed her as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in the Government of the 32nd Dáil, she was reappointed to the position when Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach in June 2017.[62]

2018 Abortion referendum

Zappone had said that she believed the 8th Amendment should be repealed, and that abortion should be available in Ireland.[63] She was initially the only member of cabinet to have unequivocally spoken out in favour of repeal of the Eighth and legalisation of abortion, arguing that the 8th Amendment "oppresses us with the burden of choicelessness", and that "as long as the Constitution treats a foetus as equal to a woman, her autonomy can be nothing more than a myth".[64] In December 2017, she gave a lecture at Dublin City University, in which she argued for the full repeal of the 8th Amendment and the introduction of "safe, legal and freely available" abortion including abortion on request up to at least 12 weeks.[65]

After the result of the referendum, Zappone thanked the women who had shared their stories of how they were affected by the eighth amendment, "It's because of their willingness to tell their stories that they were able to change the hearts and the minds of the citizens but also many of the politicians too."[66]


  • The Hope for Wholeness: A Spirituality for Feminists, by Katherine Zappone, (1991).
  • Re-Thinking Identity: the Challenge of Diversity, by Dr. Katherine Zappone, (2003).
  • Our Lives Out Loud: In Pursuit of Justice and Equality, by Ann Louise Gilligan and Dr. Katherine Zappone, (2008).


  1. Zappone, Katherine (July 2008). "Ireland: Fighting for 21st century law to end Prejudice". Centre for Progressive Change. Centre for Progressive Change. Retrieved 18 March 2018. In 1995 I had the privilige [sic] of becoming an Irish citizen and so now I hold dual citizenship.
  2. Edwards, Elaine (20 May 2011). "McAleese appointed to Seanad". The Irish Times.
  3. "Katherine Zappone". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  4. "Gilmore announces Seanad nominee recommendations". Labour.ie. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  5. "Katherine Zappone". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  6. "Ireland's first lesbian TD hopes to represent LGBT community in Dáil". Breaking News. 4 March 2016.
  7. Dwyer, Ciara (19 October 2008). "Ann and Katherine say it loud". Sunday Independent. Katherine and Ann Louise are lesbian feminist theologians.
  8. "Zappone & Anor -v- Revenue Commissioners & Ors : Judgments & Determinations : Courts Service of Ireland". Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  9. "An Cosan Governance". AnCosan.com. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  10. Edwards, Elaine. "McAleese appointed to Seanad". The Irish Times. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  11. "Referendum 2015 Live: Ireland on course for same-sex marriage". Independent.ie.
  12. O'Regan, Eilish. "'Forget Gay Byrne, Edna brought sex to nation'". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  13. "Lesbian couple get engaged while results of Ireland's gay marriage referendum pour in". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  14. O'Regan, Mark. "Miriam O'Callaghan: 'I struggle to get everything right... I'm always late... but it works'". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  15. Hilliard, Mark (15 November 2014). "Changing lives with virtual education". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  16. Hand, Lise. "How women can prevent us from being manhandled again". independent.ie. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  17. Dwyer, Claire. "Ann and Katherine say it loud". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  18. O'Brian, Carl. "It's quality versus quantity in battle for hearts and minds of preschool children". The Irish Times. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  19. "Breakfast and lunch networking". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  20. McCahill, Elaine. "Early school leaver is Trinity's new student president". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  21. O'Regan, Mark. "I struggle sometimes but hard work pays off, Miriam reveals". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  22. Ruane, Lynn. "When you educate a woman, you educate her whole family". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  23. "Launch of the Gilligan/Zappone tax case". RTÉ News. 9 November 2004.
  24. "Landmark case by lesbian couple under way". RTÉ News. 3 October 2006.
  25. KalCase.org (2006). "Judgment of the Case of Ann-Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone". Archived from the original (DOC) on 5 January 2007.
  26. "Lesbian couple lose marriage recognition case". RTÉ News. 14 December 2006.
  27. "Lesbian couple take case to Supreme Court". RTÉ News. 23 February 2007.
  28. "Gay couple in Supreme Court over right to wed". The Irish Times. 9 May 2012.
  29. "Fresh Marriage Equality Challenge for High Court". Marriage Equality. 6 June 2012. Archived from the original on 31 July 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  30. "Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality – Membership". oireachtas.ie. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  31. O'Halloran, Marie (18 December 2014). "Government gets comfortable Seanad majority on water Bill". The Irish Times.
  32. Duncan, Pamela; Griffen, Dan (1 November 2014). "Dublin centre and suburbs bring tens of thousands onto street". The Irish Times.
  33. O'Regan, Michael (5 November 2014). "Bacik says Senators did not guillotine water Bill". The Irish Times.
  34. Heaney, Michael (8 November 2014). "Radio: Astute questioning brings Irish Water debate to boiling point". The Irish Times.
  35. O'Halloran, Marie (3 December 2014). "More than 160 people sleep 'rough ' in shadow of Leinster House". The Irish Times.
  36. Griffin, Dan. "Gender Recognition Bill still problematic, campaigners say". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  37. O'Regan, Michael. "Transgender law open to review, says Humphreys". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  38. O'Regan, Michael. "Tánaiste says recognition of transgender identity a sign of growing maturity". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  39. Fetherstonhaugh, Neil. "Call for increase in Garda numbers". Dublin People. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  40. Fetherstonhaugh, Neil. "Garda fleet to be upgraded in Tallaght". Dublin People. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  41. O'Regan, Michael. "One-Parent Family Payment changes to be raised in Seanad". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  42. Lord, Miriam. "Miriam Lord: Some puffing out of the Norrisonian chest". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  43. Minihan, Mary. "Katherine Zappone says she is 'worried' about referendum". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  44. Ingle, Róisín. "Roísín Ingle on . . . the emotional highs of Equality Day". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  45. Mullally, Una. "#MarRef The Aftermath: How Broadcast Media Failed". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  46. McGee, Harry. "Personal route to reach public central to Yes campaign". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  47. Pattison, Brynmor. "Yes Equality: New campaign for gay marriage launches in Dublin". The Irish Mirror. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  48. Kenny, Colum. "Insults won't help either side win same-sex marriage referendum". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  49. Anderson, Nicola. "Last push as Yes side warns it's not in the bag yet". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  50. Kennedy, Jason. "Senator Katherine Zappone: 'People are voting for a republic of love'". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  51. Kennedy, Jason. "Emotional Senator Katherine Zappone wipes away tears as she votes yes along with her wife". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  52. Lord, Miriam. "Miriam Lord: 'The quiet Yes kept its counsel. They spoke when it mattered'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  53. Cullen, Claire. "With this referendum I thee wed – Senator". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  54. Cullen, Claire. "'There's nothing like an Irish wedding' – Senator Katherine Zappone proposes live on television". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  55. "Just say Yes: Quotes of the day". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  56. "The #MarRef in quotes". The Irish Examiner. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  57. Dunne, Seán. "Senator Katherine Zappone will run as an Independent in Dublin South West". newstalk.com. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  58. "Election 2016: Katherine Zappone". RTÉ. 28 February 2016.
  59. Holl, Kitty; Citywest, In. "Dublin South-West: Independent Katherine Zappone elected". The Irish Times.
  60. Finn, Christina (14 April 2016). "No to Enda, no to Micheál: Dáil fails to elect Taoiseach for a third time". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  61. Zappone to earn €80,000 from long commute The Sunday Times, 24 April 2016.
  62. "Frances Fitzgerald is Tánaiste in new Cabinet". RTÉ News. 6 May 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  63. "Repeal the 8th".
  64. Murray, Sean. "Children's Minister says Irish women will never have autonomy until the Eighth is repealed". TheJournal.ie.
  65. Posted at 17:59h (7 December 2017). "After the 8th: Re-Visioning Reproductive Rights". Katherine Zappone. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  66. Henley, Jon; McDonald, Henry (26 May 2018). "Irish abortion referendum: yes wins with 66.4% – as it happened" via www.theguardian.com.
Preceded by
Eamonn Maloney
(Labour Party)
Independent Teachta Dála for Dublin South-West
Political offices
Preceded by
James Reilly
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
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