Katherine Zappone


Katherine Zappone


Katherine Zappone

Biography & Selected Writings

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

Internationally Katherine served as Special Envoy for Ireland’s successful bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. She is a International Expert with the Lancent Commission on Covid-19, making recommendations on human rights and vulnerable groups to the global community, including the UN.

By envisioning and building coalitions to support radical social change and substantive equality, Zappone has succeeded in securing constitutional and institutional reform to support equality, social justice, and the reduction of poverty in Ireland.

During her time in Irish politics she acquired ministerial office in Ireland, leading a large and cross-cutting, high-budget department. As a Minister, she brought 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. As a Public Representative Katherine brought a wealth of experience working at grassroots level, with An Cosán and Childhood Development Ireland, two of her initiatives, sitting at the heart of Dublin South West.

Personal Details

  • Citizenship: Irish and United States of America (dual citizenship)
  • Languages: English, French


  • 1995 Smurfit School of Business, University College Dublin MBA First Place, First Class Honours
  • 1986 Religion and Education, Boston College PhD
  • 1978  Religious Studies and Education, Catholic University of America MA 
  • 1976  Theology and Psychology, Seattle University BA Summa Cum Laude

Political Experience

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Government of Ireland  2016-2020

  • Political leadership of government department
    • Leading child-centred implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals for Ireland incl. stakeholder conferences co-led with Jeffrey Sachs (report: Sustainable Development Goals through the Lens of a Child (2018; DCYA & Geary Institute, UCD)
    • Secured 117% increase in investment for the Department from Government funds
    • Introduced financial support for a comprehensive infrastructure for childcare and family support services on a statutory basis
    • Formulated and led an innovation transitional justice approach to the historical treatment of children and women in Ireland (e.g. the ‘Mother and Baby Homes’)
    • Initiated and led the world’s first LGBT+ Youth Strategy
  • Member of Cabinet with collective government responsibility across all of government activities
  • Campaigning for Ireland’s election to the UN Security Council

Teachta Dála (Member of Parliament), Dáil Éireann (Ireland)  2016-2020

  • Independent, non-party-aligned member of parliament representing the constituency of Dublin South West representing 151,000 people.

Senator, Seanad Éireann (Ireland) 2011-2016

  • Independent, non-party-aligned member of the upper house of Irish Parliament
    • Co-developed and co-led a successful campaign to retain a bicameral parliamentary system in Ireland when abolition of the Seanad was proposed by referendum (2013)
    • Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (2012-2013); Member PACE Committee on equality and Non-Discrimination
    • Successfully engaged in legislative efforts through (a) amendments to Government Bills to enhance equal treatment of different family forms, (b) proposing legislation to introduce progressive gender recognition systems in Ireland ultimately taken up by Government and passed through government-initiated legislation, and (c) leading efforts, drawing on experience in PACE, to enhance parliamentary oversight of human rights compliance in Ireland.

Leading Constitutional Change

Marriage Equality 2004-15

  • Initiated litigation against Ireland claiming constitutional entitlement to recognition of foreign, same-sex marriage (Zappone & Gilligan v Revenue Commissioners & Ors [2006] 2 IR 417)
  • Member of Convention on the Constitution that recommended a referendum to establish the constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples (2013)
  • A founding member of Marriage Equality (2005-2015), which advocated for and led the successful campaign in the marriage equality referendum. This was the first time in the world that a right to same-sex marriage was established by popular vote (2015).

Repeal the 8th Amendment 2016-18

  • 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 (2016)
  • As an Independent member of Cabinet, was critical to securing support of Cabinet colleagues for the holding of a referendum and advocating for ‘yes’ vote to enable legalisation of abortion in Ireland (2017-18)

Retention of Seanad Éireann 2013

  • Co-founded ‘Democracy Matters’, which successfully led the campaign for retention of the upper house of Parliament (Seanad) when abolition was proposed by referendum (2013)
  • Co-sponsored legislation, the Seanad Bill 2013, proposing reform of the retained upper house (2013), which was instrumental in securing popular support for its retention

Relevant Professional Experience

  • 2000-2011 Member of the Irish Human Rights Commission
  • 1997-2000 Chief Executive, National Women’s Council of Ireland
  • 2001-2002 Consultant, Educational Disadvantage Centre, Dublin City University
  • 2000-2002 Consultant and Researcher, Equality Authority Ireland and Equality Commission, Northern Ireland
  • 2002 Consultant, Joint Equality and Human Rights Forum
  • 2001 Consultant, Crisis Pregnancy Agency
  • 2001-2008 Lecturer (part-time), St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra
  • 1983-1993 Lecturer, Trinity College Dublin
  • 1986-1991 Lecturer (part-time), University of Seattle
  • 1995-1996 Lecturer (part-time), Dublin City University

Change Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship

1986-2002 Co-Founder and Board Director, An Cosán

  • Largest community education organisation in Ireland
  • Aims to eradicate poverty through education including Adult Education, Early Childhood Care, Early Childhood Education
  • Directly engaged with and provided education to approximately 25,000 people

2003-2010 Founding Chairperson, Childhood Development Initiative Ltd

  • Provides a comprehensive prevention and early intervention children’s services programme, forming the basis for national policy change

2008-2016 Co-Founder and Director, The Centre for Progressive Change

  • Provision of training and consultancy to support implementation of progressive change at national and local level, holding an ethical vision to put community at the heart of public life

National and International Indicators of Esteem

  • 2013 Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University College Dublin
  • 2018 Finalist, Innovation in Politics Awards
  • 2017 GALA Politician of the Year
  • 2016 Tatler Woman of the Year
  • 2012 Appointed to European Institute for Gender Equality
  • 2010 GALA People of the Year

Selected Publications

Extensive experience of publishing for academic, policy and general public audiences across multiple formats (including books, peer reviewed articles, and reports), including

  • Katherine Zappone, ‘Love’s Pursuit: An Approach to Transitional Justice in Ireland’ (2020) Éire-Ireland forthcoming
  • Katherine Zappone, ‘Ireland’s Chance: Recovering the Truth, Framing Justice After Tuam’, Boston College Magazine Vol. 79, No. 1, Winter 2019
  • Ann Louise Gilligan & Katherine Zappone, Our Lives Out Loud: In Pursuit of Justice and Equality (2008; O’Brien Press)
  • PACE Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, Rapporteur: Katherine Zappone, Improving Co-Operation between National Human Rights Institutions and Parliament in Addressing Equality and Non-Discrimination Issues (2014 AS/Ega (2014) 11)
  • Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone, ‘Sexual Identity, Law, and Social Change’ in Bacik & Rogan (eds), Legal Cases That Changed Ireland (2017; Clarus Press)
  • Katherine Zappone, Re-Thinking Identity: The Challenges of Diversity (2002; Joint Equality and Human Rights Forum)
  • Katherine Zappone, Charting the Equality Agenda: A Coherent Framework for Equality Strategies in Ireland North and South (2001; Equality Commission and Equality Authority)
  • Katherine Zappone, The Hope for Wholeness: A Spirituality of Feminists (1991; Mystic CT)

Speeches & Presentations

Extensive experience of speaking at governmental and non-governmental levels at conferences, interstate gatherings, and meetings all over the world, including 


  • Addressed UN General Assembly, 25th Anniversary of the ICPD (2019)
  • Three times addressed the UN Security Council:
    • 31st October 2017 – Open Debate on ‘Children and armed Conflict’
    • 9th July 2018 – Open Debate on ‘Children and armed Conflict’
    • 6th December 2018 – Open Debate on ‘Co-operation between UN and regional and sub-regional organisations: the role of States, regional arrangements and the UN in the prevention and resolution of conflicts’
  • Addressed UN celebration of 100 Years of Irish Women’s Suffrage, ‘Our Future Will Become the Past of Other Women’ Poem to celebrate Votail 100 by Esvan Boland (2018)


  • Addressed the African Leadership Meeting – ‘Investing in Health at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Union, Addis Ababa  (2019)
  • Addressed African Union Roundtable on ‘Addressing Root Causes of Forced Displacement and Achieving Durable Solutions in Africa’, Addis Ababa (2019)
  • Addressed UNICEF Event – ‘Leave no Child Behind: Achieving the SDGs through investing in the Rights of the Child’ (2019)
  • Addressed the ‘Ireland and Global Education Monitoring Report Side event on SDG 4 (2019)
  • Addressed the ILO in UN Headquarters ‘Celebrating 100 Years of the International Labour Organisation (2019).

European Union

  • Council of the European Union (Education, Youth, Culture and Sport), Brussels, ‘European Union Youth Strategy 2019-2027: From Vision to Implementation’ (2018)
  • Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Vienna Youth Ministers’ meeting, ‘Youth and Politicians – How to foster fruitful dialogue and participation within Erasmus and the EU Youth Strategy’ (2018)
  • Council of the European Union (Education, Youth, Culture and Sport), Brussels, ‘What’s next? The issues that matter to young people and possible European efforts to address these issues’ (2017)
  • Council of the European Union (Education, Youth, Culture and Sport), Brussels, ‘The role of youth policy and the youth sector in an integrated approach to support youth in their identity development’ (2016)
  • Council of the European Union (Education, Youth, Culture and Sport), Brussels, ‘Young Europeans at the centre of a modern European Union’ (2016)

International Speeches

  • Copenhagen Key Note Speech Hosted by the Danish Chairmanship of the committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the Danish Parliament, Conference on Private and family life for LGBTI people (2018) 
  • ‘Love’s Pursuit: An Approach to Transitional Justice in Ireland’ Boston College International Conference on Transitional Justice (2018)

International Engagements

  • Meeting Minister for Finance, Lesotho (2019)
  • ‘Gender-Based Violence and young people’ Diepsloot township in South Africa (2019)
  • Meeting with President of Namibia and his Council (2019)
  • Meetings with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Namibia (2019)
  • Addressed UNFPA event in Namibia, Hosted by Namibian First Lady (2019)
  • Meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister, Botswana (2019)

National Speeches

Media Experience

  • Extensive experience of live and recorded radio and television media, and providing opinion editorials and interviews for newspapers. Appearances include BBC, Sky News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and CNN. Opinion editorials have been published in The Guardian, The Irish Times and elsewhere.
  • “Remembering Ann Louise today on the anniversary of our life partnership ceremony” The Irish Times, Opinion, August 2019
  • Interviewed for and featured in The 34th (2017; Coco Productions) an award-winning documentary about the marriage equality referendum, featured now on Netflix.


The 34th Documentary