Dublin South West TD Katherine Zappone received confirmation of her new role on Friday when Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced his cabinet.
She joined three of her fellow independents in the new administration with Denis Naughton appointed Minister for Communications; Shane Ross Minister for Transport; and Dublin independent TD, Finian McGrath, Super Junior Minister with responsibility for disability.
She is the first American since Eamon De Valera to serve as a cabinet member and is also Ireland’s first openly lesbian minister.
As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Zappone will be tasked with the job of harmonising policy issues that affect children in areas such as early childhood care and education, youth justice, child welfare and protection and other areas.
Zappone has extensive policy experience in this area, having established the hugely successful An Cosan to deliver adult education and enterprise opportunities to women in disadvantaged areas.
In her statement released on Saturday she said:
“It is with enormous pride and a great sense of responsibility that I take up the role of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I have spent a huge part of my career working in children’s services and education, and it has been one of my life ambitions that we ensure all children get an equal start in life. One of the key principles of my election campaign was the belief that investing in children is the best way to cut poverty and inequality.
I look forward to bringing my experience in this sector to greatly improve outcomes for all children in Ireland, whether it is from the early days of co-founding An Cosán in Dublin South West 30 years ago and establishing 9 non-profit childcare and early education centres, working on the Childcare 2000 campaign as CEO of the National Women’s Council, or leading the establishment of the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative, an Area Based Childcare programme. I also hope to bring the spirit of change I shared with many others during our long campaign for marriage equality. In the election I asked people to judge me on my track record of delivering change and reducing poverty, and now I will ask people to judge my track record in Government and as a Minister.
I have built my career on a willingness to listen to the views of all people, and work together to create a consensus. As this Government does not have a majority, I have great hope that there is a genuine opportunity for TDs to work together and bring forward innovative ideas to improve the lives of people in Ireland. If any TD, Government or Opposition, has a workable policy, my door will be open. A minority Government gives us the chance to commit to respectful political relationships to rebuild trust in politics; although all TDs do not agree 100% of the time, this does not mean we cannot agree on anything. I also look forward to working with the many brilliant people working in civic society and children’s organisations across Ireland.
To solve all the issues Ireland is facing, I believe the Government and Opposition will need to look at all future spending and policies through a lens of equality, guaranteeing that we provide fairness to everyone irrespective of gender, colour, creed or social background.
I am bringing a Progressive perspective to Government, to this Department, and to Cabinet, in the hope of creating a more fair and equal Ireland.”