Katherine Zappone is a sort of symbol for where we as a country are on our journey to Independence.
We might be an independent people in all formal respects but as everyone knows now the colonial mindset is not so easily shrugged off. Mostly when we talk about the legacy of colonialism what we have in mind is the lingering sense of superiority which apparently is more tenacious than any gene, however removed people may be from their colonizing past. We don’t, however, normally think of the ways in which a formerly subjugated people can sometimes relapse into forelock tugging when flattered or patronised by a poised and glossy foreigner. That arguably is also a legacy of colonialism.
Katherine Zappone was a poised and glossy foreigner. She seems to have appeared among us as an icon of modernity for our political leaders intent on forging a bright new brand of progressiveness for themselves so our country could take its place among the woke nations of the world. Zappone, fluent in the oily sanctimony of wokespeak, could articulate these aspirations for them, and face down, by sheer dint of slickness and sophistication, the nation’s benighted rearguard reluctant to abandon old orthodoxies. That was back in the mid Nineties.
Katherine Zappone eagerly clambered aboard the national gravy train bound for the new ideological dawn. Her uniquely American stardust added sheen to our dull suited political class, led at the time by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore. She must have been bedazzled herself at how easy it all was to become almost overnight a significant player at the top of Irish public life. The material rewards must have been beyond her wildest dreams too.
From the start she showed a rare drive and determination, first as an extravagantly state funded community entrepreneur and as a forceful gay rights campaigner before securing a senate nomination from Enda Kenny. It is really very hard to decide how much her drive came from grasping personal ambition and how much from dedication to the cause of, what she called, ‘equality’ but was really only equality within the pin point focus of the LGBTQI agenda. Part of that agenda was inappropriately using her position as Minister for Children to level with the Catholic Church for whom she held a singular animosity. Having managed to narrowly secure a Dáil seat through aligning herself with the ‘no water charges’ campaign, she was given the gift of this ministerial position by Enda Kenny for the sole reason of parliamentary arithmetic and of course her now familiar ‘nous’ for spotting an opportunity a mile off, as well as the best route to securing it,
Routes could be ends in themselves too as she demonstrated by logging her miles to Leinster House from her home along a route that qualified her for a very significantly higher rate of travel expenses.. Normally the AA’s mileage determines distances for workers eligible for travel allowances but not for Zappone who insisted she was operating ‘within rules’. No doubt she was but the lack of political will to close such exploitable loopholes shows something of the forelock-tugging deference ‘Katherine’ has commanded from our political leaders both during and after her long, lucrative Irish sojourn.
Zappone’s pushiness is largely a measure of the ease with which she has always got her way with our pushover politicians. Ever a jump ahead, she flagged her interest in continuing as Minister for Children before the election that followed what was to be her only stint in government before she or anyone else had the slightest idea of the composition of the incoming government. Like the Vicar of Bray of the ballad, she was ready to serve under any king so long as she kept her position and perks.
In classic hubris, she of course ended up overplaying her hand, despite the initial success of the slew of ingratiating, shameless texts and emails which didn’t really amount to lobbying, according to Simon Coveney. It was a push too far for an Opposition with an instinct for exploiting a plausible charge of cronyism and entitlement against the government.
But this was not conniving cronyism but something more pathetically abject. Katherine Zappone was not a crony when she was gifted with a seat in the Senate and later at the Cabinet table without doing much more than nicely asking for them. She brought nothing at all like disarming qualifications Coveney claims for her to these roles anymore than she did to the special envoy role she would be allowed customise to suit herself. She came to Ireland with a PhD in, of all things, Theology. Not normally the kind of cv that Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny, less still Varadkar and Coveney, would be swept away by. Otherwise, her previous working experience in the US seems one big blank even though she was a middle aged woman by the time she arrived in Ireland.
The combination of passive aggressive, worldly wise progressiveness and moral certitude met no resistance from politicians carrying a complex legacy of ideological domination by both imperial and ecclesial powers. Their craven capitulation to the agenda of a narrow, exclusionary, reductionist notion of rights and equality is not merely an intriguing irony. It has blotted from view the unspeakable, barbaric violations of the most basic of human rights around the world, most recently and perhaps most catastrophically in Afghanistan.
Who is there among our political and indeed media class to raise the hue and cry that is needed in the face of such global moral collapse? Instead, we agonise over pronouns and the relevance of sex and gender as metrics of discrimmination in our highly secularised and sexualised societies. And most absurdly of all we now see our triumvirate of lame duck political leaders supporting their ministerial colleague, Simon Coveney, in insisting that everyone’s idea of lobbying isn’t really lobbying and that a job offer isn’t really a job offer.
It’s a bit like a game of ‘Simon Says’ only played by the adults we have elected to govern us.