From the daughter of an immigrant to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu is the Green Party’s talented new Chair for Dublin City Council. Recently coming into the role of Lord Mayor, The College Tribune interviewed Chu on achieving widespread affordable housing, saving Dublin’s pubs and clubs, getting more counsellors at UCD, writing to President Andrew Deeks – and not hearing back from Eamon Ryan. Chu sits on UCD’s Governing Authority, coming a long way from Auditor of Philsoc twenty years ago. All this and more below…
Hazel Chu has recently begun her term as Lord Mayor of Dublin. The Green Party Councillor is a former student of UCD, studying History and Politics and later Marketing Practice in Smurfit.
Following college, she did some work with NGO’s and Electric Picnic in order to save up to practice law. Chu’s intention to practice law had been stumped by financial strains: “My path had always been: ‘I want to do law. I want to be a barrister’, Hazel tells me, “but when you’re twenty grand in debt”, she couldn’t afford the work.
After she studied law, Chu went travelling following the sudden passing of her friend Jane, who died from cancer. She says many students may also experience this “complete burnout mode” after college or working for a couple of years, saying that travelling can be a great alternative.
Her advice for students unsure of taking up job opportunities after college is to “just jump!” She says if you are considering a career path, and there’s some doubt as to whether you’ll enjoy it, just go for it and see where the opportunity takes you.
The daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong in the 1970’s, Chu had a quite different upbringing. She says her experience of primary school was “odd” but not overtly negative. Chu says that secondary school was a different story, experiencing “taunts” and “bullying”. On the flipside though, she says “college was great”. Compared to other periods in her life, Chu says that, “during my college years, [UCD was] the place where I did not get as discriminated against.”
The Lord Mayor says Black Lives Matter is an amazing movement, but it shouldn’t have been surprising. “It shouldn’t have taken a man to die to have been sparked, because these things have been ongoing for so long.”
“I would sincerely ask and hope that students across the country would look at racism and discrimination and go: ‘This is not a new issue. This is not an issue that will just go away – even with the current movement. As such, we need to continue fighting it.” She says students should not be an “innocent bystander” and “challenge it when it happens”. Chu believes “there is no such thing as innocent bystanders anymore.” She says racism should be “called out” and people should do something positive to promote and celebrate diversity.
“It shouldn’t be that differences are called out and hated upon. It should be the complete opposite. If there are differences, they should be celebrated. And I think college spaces [are] generally quite good for that.” Chu believes if a celebration of diversity can happen on campus, it can happen elsewhere too.
Funnily, Chu’s official title is Lord Mayor of Dublin – not lady. Her “other half”, as she calls him, Patrick Costello TD is officially the Lady Mayoress of Dublin. When asked whether she would campaign to change the wording of the legislation, Chu responds saying: “In fairness, if the Lady Mayoress’ themselves think there should be a change, they should be the one’s going out [to change the legislation], mainly because ‘the other half’ is a TD.”
“They obviously set out the term because they didn’t imagine a woman in the role. And that is disappointing, I guess that was a sign of the times.” Chu says that being referred to as Lord Mayor gives her equal status with the male holders of the position in the past.
Closing the Gap
Chu has been outspoken in the past regarding gender discrimination in the workplace. She comments on recent studies suggesting a gender wage gap presenting within two years of graduating college: “Within two years there’s a gap. So, what we need to start doing is bringing various industries on board.” Chu says this sort of change “starts with the bigger companies” who are “willing to make sure there is no discrimination going forward no-matter what. But that involves getting them to play ball.”
The Lord Mayor argues that the private sector must be more transparent with their pay structures akin to the public sector. She also thinks pressure should be put on the private sector to eradicate pay parity based on gender discrimination.
Making Dublin Affordable
Touching on housing, Chu says that this issue doesn’t just affect students but everybody in the city. “Do we need as many student accommodation [units] that [are] overpriced and students can’t actually afford?” She said that in the city’s overall development plan for housing, there needs to be more affordable options. “Students can’t pay for it, and when they finish college, they can definitely not pay for it. So, it’s not just planning for students now, but it’s also future.”
Speaking on this year’s most protested issue on-campus, affordable accommodation, Chu says: “You definitely need the right kind of supply because luxury accommodation – as much as when I was a student, I would have loved luxury accommodation – I would just rather accommodation. So, it’s plain and simple: supply is crucial when you’re looking at the numbers. Affordable supply is what’s needed. […] That doesn’t mean that you put somebody in a box either. So, I think there is a balance here.”
“You need immediate action and you need it to make sure there is no cost to the person living there. […] It needs to be fit for purpose, but it needs to be affordable. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.”
Saving the Night Economy
Recently, the Lord Mayor expressed dismay at the closure of popular Dublin bar, The Globe. Chu has been outspoken about the importance of preserving the ‘night-time economy’ in the wake of the pandemic, calling it a “crucial” part of the city.
She points towards Hong Kong as a city which values the importance of the night-time economy. “If you look at Hong Kong. My parents come from a place where it literally does not sleep. […] And the thing is, it’s flexible working as well. Are there plenty of things wrong with Hong Kong? Absolutely, especially in light of the current climate. But do they do night-time economy really well? Yes!”
The Lord Mayor sees benefit in developing Dublin’s night-time economy alongside the phased reopening of the remainder of the city. “Night economy isn’t about just trade, it’s about culture as well. It’s about keeping The Globe’s of the world and the dancefloor of the Rí-Rá’s, making sure that little bit of history and culture is kept and still available to everyone.”
Chu says in the past she worked in the music promotions industry, saying that between 1996 and 2002 Dublin had some of the best clubs open. She lists off The Kitchen, The Clarence, and more recently places such as Hangar 8, Andrew’s Lane and The Bernard Shaw.
“It’s tough enough having to go to college, to work, having to sit on the bus for two hours and then on the weekends realising that you don’t actually have a place to hangout in.”
The Lord Mayor says Dublin could benefit from a system similar to London where Amy Lamé is the Night Czar, who caters for the city’s night-time economy.
From Auditor to Governor
The Lord Mayor of Dublin is entitled to sit on the Governing Authority (GA) of UCD. This 40-person group is one of the highest boards to be appointed to. To see how prepared Chu is for the complexities of UCD politics, we spoke about some of the biggest student issues at the moment.
Chu was the Auditor of the Philosophy society when she was at college twenty years ago, and says: “As a student it didn’t even cross my mind who was on the Governing Authority. You don’t really think that you’d suddenly be on it.”
The Lord Mayor sees housing, mental health and employment as the biggest issues facing students at the moment, all of which have been greatly affected by the pandemic.
Recently, The College Tribune reported that UCD’s University Management Team (UMT) see it not economically viable to hire more counselling staff for students during peak months. Chu sees a clear answer to student concerns that UCD’s counselling service is under resourced. “Plain and simple: get more counsellors. I get the resources argument and the financial argument. […] College is a business, and I get the cost-benefit analysis in saying for a resource we are not able to afford it.” Chu says the university should present the cost-benefit analysis and then present solutions to how more counsellors can be hired. “If you hire a counsellor during peak time, can this counsellor then be part-time afterwards? I’m not claiming that I have the solution, but I do think that there are ways to work around it especially in light of covid.”
Chu also says that she will work within GA to ensure students are prepared for the next couple of years in terms of receiving employment amongst the fallout from Covid-19.
Coming to the end of the interview, Chu asks me what some of the biggest issues at UCD at the moment were. After referring her to recent concerns surrounding how little students will be on campus next year, and how UCD have not responded for requests for comment on the matter, the Lord Mayor responds: “Do you want me to write to the President? Actually – that’s not a question. I’ll write to the President. […] I will write to the President of UCD and say: ‘I look forward to joining the Governing Authority, but prior to that I have spoken to representatives of students, and there is this current pressing matter in question if you would shed clarity on it.’”
Chu jokes that she normally gets responses to her letters, but then stops to list off some who have yet to respond to her on various issues. The Lord Mayor lists Taoiseach Micheál Martin, An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan who (as of Monday July 27th) are yet to respond to her on a number of issues.
At the close of the interview, I ask the Lord Mayor if she will pose for a photograph, to which she responds: “Jesus, Conor, I haven’t even put my makeup on. You can have that on record!”
The above photograph of the Lord Mayor’s Mega Man t-shirt juxtaposed with her chain serves for an unlikely pairing, but one that reflects her relatable and down-to-earth manner. She intends to be an active part of UCD’s Governing Authority and seeks to represent students’ views over the coming year.
Conor Capplis – News Editor