2016 - 2017


JUNE 1981 – MARCH 1982

I am very conscious of the fact that I’m a woman [in cabinet]. But does that make a difference?

I think it’s the non-aligned Independent that makes more of a difference or that one can see explicitly.’

Martina FitzGerald Madam Politician, Gill Books, 2018

Political Career timeline

  • Appointed a Commissioner on the Irish Human Rights Commission 2001-2012
  • Member of the Seanad ( May 2011- February 2016)
  • Elected to the 32nd Dáil as an Independent TD for Dublin South-West in February 2016.
  • Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, 2016 to date

Elected to the Dáil as an Independent TD in 2016

Elected to the Dáil as an Independent TD in 2016, Zappone insisted that the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly be acted on and made this a condition of her joining the minority government in January 2017.

The Citizens’ Assembly had voted in favour of the Eighth Amendment being removed from the Constitution. This paved the way for the referendum on this issue in May 2018, which resulted in its removal.

Elected to the Dáil as an Independent TD in 2016

Minister Zappone’s political policies and views are informed by decades of campaigning as a community activist. Together with her late spouse Ann Louise Gilligan they co-founded An Cosán in their home. It is now the largest community education and development network in the country.

Their legal fight to have their Canadian marriage recognised paved the way for a campaign which would ultimately see Ireland become the first country in the world to introduce Marriage Equality by popular vote.


One of a family of five Katherine was born on 25 November 1953 in Seattle, Washington State. She grew up in Spokane, which Katherine Zappone described as ‘a quiet town in the most north western state’ and afterwards in Seattle.

Following school Katherine went to college to study Medicine. One of her professors at the Jesuit College suggested that she should major in theology. She continued to specialise in theology eventually moving to Washington where she obtained her Masters from the Catholic University of America. In 1978 she moved to New York and worked at Marymount School, chairing a department of religion.

In 1981 she moved to Boston College.

In 1981 she moved to Boston College. There she met her future wife Ann Louise Gilligan, when both were studying for Doctorates in Education and Religious Studies.

In 1982 they made a formal life commitment and although it was not possible in law or religion at the time, they had ‘an act of union’ officiated by a friend who was an Episcopalian priest. Their rings were engraved with ‘god is love KAL’

The couple came to live in Ireland in 1983

The couple came to live in Ireland in 1983. Katherine got a job lecturing in Trinity College Dublin in Liberation Theology. She remained there for nine years, traveling to speak in Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States on ethics, theology and education.

She became more active in the area of rights and social justice. She and Ann Louise were active in groups such as Irish Women for Disarmament. Katherine served as the Director of the National Women’s Council and continued to lecture in what was described in the press as ‘feminist theology’.

In 1995 Katherine became an Irish citizen.

Zappone and her wife founded An Cosán, a centre of second-chance education for women from disadvantaged areas. This grew over time to include Rainbow House and Fledglings Social Enterprise with eight community schools.

Senator Lynn Ruane, who participated in the first Young Women’s Programme, has given credit to Gilligan and Zappone's ‘visionary and altruistic work in education’ by founding An Cosán as having a profound impact on her own life. It enabled her, in her own words to ‘heal, learn and believe again.’

Zappone said about the founding of An Cosán ‘You feel like you are bringing about change for the good. Why wouldn’t you want to do it?’ It currently supports 1,000 families annually. In 2012 An Cósan traced the progress of 1,500 past pupils and found that 1,200 were employed.

Marriage in Canada, September 2003

Katherine came to national prominence when she and her partner sought legal recognition of their Vancouver marriage which took place in 2003. When their application to the Revenue Commissioners to be taxed as a married couple was turned down, the couple took a landmark High Court case.

The High Court declined to recognise the applicants’ Canadian marriage. However their battle for legal change culminated first in the Civil Partnership Act of 2010.

In the LGBT community, Gilligan and Zappone became known by the initials: KAL and the organisational support that formed around their High Court case became the KAL Advocacy Initiative. This in turn led to the Marriage Equality campaign, which was the organisational driver of advocating for marriage rights for LGBT people.

Zappone was a voluntary advisor on the Yes Equality Campaign

Zappone was a voluntary advisor on the Yes Equality Campaign. She stated in 2015 that ‘she spoke ‘Vote Yes for Equality, for a Republic of equals, a Republic of love.’ Following the success of the marriage-equality referendum of 22 May 2015, Katherine and Ann Louise married under Irish Law on 22 January 2016 at City Hall.

Ann Louise died on 15 June 2017.