Her Excellency
Katherine Zappone
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Government of Ireland

Activist, social justice campaigner and the only female Independent Minister of the Irish Government, Dr Katherine Zappone is one of the leading human rights figures in Ireland.

Minister Zappone is an internationally-recognised political and social leader, with extensive experience in politics, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organisations, and academia.

Minister Zappone has been honoured to address the Council of Europe, the United Nations Security Councils and has represented Ireland at human rights and aid conferences across Europe and Africa.

By envisioning and building coalitions to support radical social change and substantive equality, Minister Zappone has succeeded in securing constitutional and institutional reform to support equality, social justice, and the reduction of poverty in Ireland.
In her work as an academic, a human rights advocate, a Senator, and now a TD and Independent member of the Irish Government, Minister Zappone’s work has shined a light on the role the state has played in women’s reproductive lives. During a lecture in Dublin City University, entitled ‘After the 8th: Re-Visioning Reproductive Justice’, Minister Zappone stated:

“As long as we maintain a law that means that only people who have resources can exercise reproductive freedom, we are consciously maintaining a condition of injustice. Equality demands that we eradicate laws or structures that deny women the ability to assess the potential impact of pregnancy on our bodies, lives, sense of selves, relationships, and futures. Instead of a law that perpetuates inequality and injustice, we need a law that reflects the real life needs and experiences of women in Ireland.”

In highlighting the importance of the state’s role to support a society that is committed fully to reproductive rights for all Minister Zappone was fundamental in securing agreement for a Citizens’ Assembly to consider repeal of the 8th Amendment (prohibiting abortion) as part of the Programme for Partnership Government. She was critical to securing support of Cabinet colleagues for the holding of a referendum and advocating for a ‘yes’ vote to enable legalisation of abortion in Ireland.

During her time as a Senator and as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe she successfully engaged in legislative efforts through amendments to Government Bills to enhance equal treatment of different family forms, proposing legislation to introduce progressive gender recognition systems in Ireland (ultimately taken up by Government and passed through government-initiated legislation), and leading efforts to enhance parliamentary oversight of human rights compliance in Ireland. In 2012 Minister Zappone was also appointed to the European Institute for Gender Equality.

As a Minister, she brings her vision for equality and social change to the Council meetings of Ministers for Youth in the European Union, and to high-level interstate gatherings in the United Nations including the Security Council and General Assembly. Last month Minister Zappone was appointed Special Envoy of the Government for Ireland’s candidature for election to the UN Security Council. Minister Zappone has promoted Ireland’s candidature during numerous bilateral and multilateral meetings and has addressed the UN Security Council on a number of occasions since 2017, including on the issue of Children and Armed Conflict.

Prior to entering politics Dr Zappone and her late spouse Dr Ann Louise Gilligan set Ireland on the road to Marriage Equality with legal action in Ireland’s highest courts. Together they co-founded An Cosán, now Ireland’s largest community-based education network that combats inter-generational poverty through education and training.

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs she is also using best international practice in terms of justice and truth telling to ensure Ireland confronts and accepts a legacy of gender injustice to the historical treatment of children and women in Ireland. Her leadership on complex issues surrounding Mother and Baby Homes has brought a strong transitional justice focus to the response of the Irish Government. Minister Dr Zappone established a ground-breaking collaborative forum to ensure no decisions are taken without the strong input and voice of survivors.

Dr Zappone also lectured for a decade in Trinity College Dublin on ethics, human rights and practical theology.

All photos are courtesy of speakers or their affiliations unless otherwise indicated.