Six Months Later: Katherine Zappone Reflects on Her Progress and Goals as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
“I am keenly aware of the challenges and the difficulties faced by LGBT Young People in our country. Marriage Equality lifted our spirits and transformed family life, but for many of our young brothers and sisters discrimination, bullying and even hate are an everyday reality.”
Dr Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Putting children and young people at the centre of every area of Government policy is the goal I set upon my appointment as Minister.
The voices of the young are important as we decide the future course for our country, they must be heard and must be acted upon.
During the first six months of this Government we have been working hard to bring about changes which will deliver positive benefits for young people and families.
The funding I secured in Budget 2017 for a radical new approach to childcare will provide opportunities for young parents to lift their families out of poverty. While working with Minister Simon Coveney we brought in child focussed measures in the Action Plan to combat homelessness – which are already delivering.
As the only Independent Woman at Cabinet I am determined to also bring an equality focus to policies. The European Commission decision on tax arrangements with Apple made for disturbing reading, and, as well as greater oversight, I secured a major international summit on tax justice to take place in Dublin in February.
However, I am also keenly aware of the challenges and the difficulties faced by LGBT Young People in our country. Marriage Equality lifted our spirits and transformed family life, but for many of our young brothers and sisters discrimination, bullying and even hate are an everyday reality.
One of the first engagements following my appointment was to launch ‘Its Good to Talk’, an awareness raising and information campaign by the LGBT Helpline with support from Eir.
Few could have predicted that the launch would end up taking place in the shadow of the gun, as 24-hours earlier the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida took place.
As we gathered in Dublin that Monday morning we did so not just with a tremendous and overwhelming feeling of shock and horror – but also in solidarity with those in the United States and a quite determination.
Later that evening our community gathered again, this time with candles at City Hall, a venue which just a few months earlier hosted the celebration when my beloved Ann Louise and myself renewed our vows. Both events could not be more contrasting.
While the Pulse Nightclub attack is at the extreme end of the scale, Research in Ireland does tell us that LGBT young people often feel victimised, discriminated against and isolated.
As Minister for Children and Young People I find this deeply disturbing.
During Dublin Pride I was proud to join the celebrations and to use the opportunity to confirm the the first ever LGBT National Youth Strategy.
Since the announcement work is continuing to prepare for what is a significant undertaking by my Department. We are focussing on mental and physical health, equality and the general wellbeing of young people.
In the recent Budget I secured €400,000 to underpin the LGBT strategy as well as €57m for youth projects across the country.
It is important to me that the voices and the experiences of young people are front and centre in forming the strategy – and a consultation will be a key part of the work.
Shortly, we will also be announcing a high profile chair and an oversight group.
I look forward to the months ahead and being kept updated on the work. I also look forward to receiving recommendations which can make a real difference in the daily lives of young people.
As a life-long campaigner for equality and justice I know it is a journey with many milestones. It requires determination, passion and strength.
A hugely significant milestone was reached with Marriage Equality but it cannot be the end of our journey when so many of our community still face discrimination and isolation.
The National Youth Strategy will build on the success of the referendum and bring us closer to the full equality – which we all strive for.
Photo credit: Marc O’Sullivan