Dr Ann Louise Gilligan, wife of Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, has died following a short illness.
In a statement on Thursday morning, the Minister said she was heartbroken by the death of Dr Gilligan, whom she married in 2003 in British Columbia.
The couple first met in Boston College in 1981, when they were doing their doctorates in theology.
Dr Gilligan, from Dublin, taught at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra and at Dublin City University. She was also a co-founder and director of An Cosan, a centre of learning, leadership and enterprise in Jobstown, Tallaght West.
The Minister said Dr Gilligan’s vision was “that education transformed poverty” and she believed in “the power of imagination to bring about personal and social change”.
She described her wife as a fearless “champion of equality, fairness and justice” and said she was a tireless campaigner who “through the courts, the Oireachtas and ultimately on the doorsteps” helped to secure marriage equality in Ireland.
“Her exceptional love of children lives on through the work of the thousands of primary school teachers she educated throughout the country,” she said.
Dr Zappone also offered her appreciation to Professor Joe Harbison and the team at Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing in St James Hospital, who looked after Dr Gilligan during a two-month illness.
“They provided care, comfort and support for which I will be forever grateful,” she said. “Arrangements for those who wish to remember Ann Louise will be made public in the coming days.”
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said Dr Gilligan life was “ a celebration of integrity and ethics”.
Executive director Liam Herrick said over a long and accomplished career as an educationalist, she inspired countless children, young people and families in all parts of Ireland, but most especially in Tallaght.
“As an academic, she was concerned with the power of education to change lives, to enrich communities and as a foundation for a better society,” he said. “She radically changed our understanding of the relationship between educational theory and practice, and our understanding of the relationship between education and social justice.”
Reflecting on the importance of the marriage equality case taken by Dr Zappone and Dr Gilligan, Mr Herrick said their personal courage in putting their own life story and their private relationship before the courts and the political system to achieve equality for others, “was an act of the most profound generosity”.
“Ireland owes an immense debt to Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone for the more equal society we now enjoy,” he said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Dr Gilligan was deeply committed to education and equality, and made a lasting contribution to Irish society, in particular as co-founder and director of An Cosan and through her work in campaigning for marriage equality,” Mr Varadkar said.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said Dr Gilligan’s work at the An Cosan project had helped transform so many lives in Tallaght.
“Throughout her life, Ann Louise always fought for justice and equality,” he said. “In her passing, she leaves behind a wonderful legacy and a distinctive mark on a more equal Ireland.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also extended his sympathies. He said it was through Dr Gilligan’s advocacy in the campaign for marriage equality that most of us came to “know and appreciate her passion, and deep love of equality and fairness”.
“This is a very sad time for her family, and in particular, her loving wife and soulmate, Minister Katherine Zappone,” he said. “My deepest sympathies go out to her, and to Ann Louise’s extended family and wide circle of friends and colleagues.”