A daughter of Hong Kong becomes Lord Mayor of Dublin

July 06, 2020 08:35
Hazel Chu becomes the 352nd Lord Mayor of Dublin  Photo: Facebook

Two immigrants from Hong Kong working in a restaurant in Dublin fell in love and got married. Their daughter, Hazel Chu, was born in a hospital in the city – and, on June 29, was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin.

She is the first ethnic Chinese to hold political office in the Irish Republic and the first to be Mayor of a major European capital.

“One of my main priorities as the new Lord Mayor will be to promote Dublin as a vibrant, inclusive city that embraces diversity at all levels of society. It is well documented over the past two decades that modern Ireland is now more diverse than ever,” she said in her acceptance speech.

David Costello, Consul General of Ireland in Hong Kong, tweeted his congratulations saying that the flow of migration between Hong Kong and Ireland has “enriched, deepened and strengthened bilateral relations”. Chu’s election reflects the transformation in Ireland in recent decades, with persons born abroad accounting for one in six (17.3%) of the Irish population in the April 2016 census.

Chu only entered politics in March 2016, when she joined the Green Party. She was elected to serve on its National Executive three years in succession. In November 2019, the party elected her as Chairperson. That year, she also entered the Dublin City Council, after winning a seat in the Pembroke district. She received 33.1 per cent of the first preference vote, the highest for a first-time candidate in a local election in Ireland.

During the 1970s, her parents separately emigrated from Hong Kong to Ireland. They went to work in the same restaurant in Dublin, where they met. Chinese are the largest ethnic minority in Ireland, numbering about 60,000. The earliest arrivals, from the 1950s, came from Hong Kong and many went into the restaurant business.

Since the 1970s, other Chinese have arrived from Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore and, more recently, from the mainland. They work in a variety of sectors, including IT, finance, the professions, real estate and retail.

Chu’s mother Stella came from a poor family in Hong Kong, where she sold flowers in a market after school to earn money. After moving to Dublin, she worked day and night washing dishes in the restaurant off O’Connell Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. In her acceptance speech, Chu said that her mother “worked endlessly to give us a future she never had”. The family lived in Firhouse and Celbridge, suburbs of Dublin.

The parents worked so much that they placed their daughter in a boarding school. She described Stella as a ‘tiger mother’ who was never satisfied with her grades.

A gifted student, Chu studied history and politics at University College, Dublin (UCD). She ran debating competitions and the Philosophy Society there. Then she completed a legal diploma and barrister-at-law degree at King’s Inn. She was the first Irish-born of Chinese descent to be called to the Irish bar. But she did not practice as a barrister because she urgently needed money to pay back the tuition fees.

After being called to the Bar in 2007, she worked in Sydney, Hong Kong and Guilin, China and New York. She worked as an artist and production manager for Electric Picnic, a music festival: a fund-raising manager for a charity: a marketing consultant in New York for Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board: advisory posts in government institutions: and six years as head of communications for Diageo Ireland. Diageo is one of the world’s largest producers of wines and spirits. “My mother would describe me as a grafter and jack of all trades, but master of none!” she said.

In 2014, she became involved in politics when managing a local election in a Dublin district for her partner Patrick Costello, whom she met at UCD. She organised campaigning on social media, the news media and door-to-door canvassing. He came top in the polls. This success prompted her to run for election herself. Patrick is now a member of the Irish parliament for the Green Party. They are engaged and have one daughter.

She joined the Green Party in 2016. She has had a high media profile since, with a column in the Business Post newspaper, and is a regular contributor to radio and television.

In November 2019, the party’s members elected her as chairperson. In her acceptance speech, she said: "I believe that The Green Party will have a growing influence in Irish politics in the years ahead and I'm keen that we prepare for that. As climate breakdown, environmental pollution and inequality emerge as the issues of our time, the Green Party is uniquely placed to contribute to Ireland's future.”

In late June, the Green Party joined the Irish government, in a historic coalition with the larger Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parties. In the general election in February this year, the Greens won 12 seats in the 160-seat parliament, with 7.1 per cent of the popular vote.

Chu becomes the 352nd Lord Mayor of Dublin and only the 9th woman to hold the office. She is not the first minority person to hold the post. In the late 1660s, two French Huguenot brothers both held the title. In 1956/7 and 1961/2, Robert Briscoe was Lord Mayor -- he was the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania.

In March 2016, then Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh visited Hong Kong to award Freedom of the City of Dublin to Jesuit Father Joseph Mallin, who had served in the city and Macao for 70 years. He died in Hong Kong in April 2018, aged 104. He was the oldest Catholic priest in the world.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.