Monday 18 December 2017

Christine delivers a masterclass, making Michael blush and even quoting Peig

MICHAEL Noonan was scarlet. Beside him, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund was answering questions on attitudes to women. Then she was asked if she had any advice for the two ministers flanking her on how to improve the lives of women in Ireland.

Christine Lagarde's reply was swift and decisive, as she gestured to the Tanaiste and the Finance Minister standing on either side of her.

"I would encourage my two colleagues to make sure that women have a say, that women are included, that women are respected," she said.

"I don't work very much with Foreign Minister Gilmore, but I know that this gentleman here," she added, turning towards Michael, "respects the views of women."

She trailed off, a little bewildered, as roars of laughter rose from reporters. But then she couldn't see the chuffed expression and rosy blush that sprang on to the visage of the usually unflappable Limerickman.

It was oh so fitting that the Government press centre, usually a drab bastion of pinstriped middle-aged males delivering cautious pronouncements on this and that, should be utterly owned by a woman yesterday on International Women's Day.

Moreover, it would be fair to say that as head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde is probably one of the most powerful women on the planet, now that Hillary Clinton has quit the world stage.

She is the first woman to head the IMF, an institution in which men hold 80pc of management positions and which has 188 member states. She is responsible for about $1trn in available credit.

Yet there she was on the podium, eloquent and elegant, exuding confidence and charm, delivering a masterclass in clever communication. And in the audience was a familiar face – the former IMF head of mission to Ireland, Ajai Chopra, carefully watching his boss in action.

She was in Dublin for a two-day visit and had a packed programme, including a dinner in her honour on Thursday night, a morning meeting with the Taoiseach in Government Buildings yesterday followed by the press conference, then she went to Dublin Castle to deliver a keynote speech at an Institute of International and European Affairs event before attending a Women's Day lunch hosted by ministers Joan Burton, Frances Fitzgerald and Lucinda Creighton.

In between all that, she even found time to nip into Doheny & Nesbitt's around the corner from the Finance Department for a quick sup with her old pal Michael Noonan and Joan Burton.

She said Michael had promised her a drink when she came to Dublin as the boss of the IMF. "So we had the occasion of doing that yesterday for a very brief period, but certainly very enjoyable," she said, emphasising the "brief".

It was clear she was on a charm offensive. Wearing a green scarf and a dark jacket adorned with a Celtic design silver brooch, she lavished praise on the Government for its handling of the economic crisis.

"What has been done is huge by any standards," she said, describing the implementation of the bailout programme as "extraordinary".

But she wasn't going to let the day that was in it go unremarked, and began the press conference by wishing "a very good International Women's Day to all the Irish women and to all women around the planet".

The former French finance minister was forthright in her support for the introduction of gender quotas to the political system to encourage more participation by women.

"I used to be against it, like many of us coming out after hard years of studies," she said. "We thought we should be hired and included on our merits. When I gained experience in the professional world I soon realised that it would take forever."

It was an explanation all-too familiar to many women suffering from concussion from repeatedly colliding with glass ceilings.

She then headed to Dublin Castle and delivered a wide-ranging speech which again struck a positive note about Ireland's progress.

CHRISTINE had clearly done her homework, using quotes not just from the usual suspects such as Yeats and Heaney, but from Ireland's poster-woman for endless woe, Peig.

"Despite what Peig Sayers might say, the Irish economy does not have 'one foot in the grave and the other foot on its edge'," she said, to the amusement of the audience.

Afterwards she took questions from the floor. Her replies were deft and diplomatic, but on the very last question she gave a flash of insight into how she broke through that glass ceiling.

She was asked by a female student for advice on how to find work when she graduates and how youth unemployment should be tackled.

"There is no magic stick. I have two 24-ish sons who are in the same position, and it's hard to get a job," she said.

Then, as she finished a lengthy reply, she leaned forward and addressed the student with a fierce intensity.

"I'm talking to you as I talk to my sons. Forget about diplomas, forget about hitting that level or that salary. Just get in there and work your way up.

"There's no substitute for hard work."

Christine Lagarde walks the walk. Une femme formidable, indeed.

Irish Independent

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