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Lise Hand: Ooh la la. . . Limerick's Lothario charmed by the feisty Parisienne

WHAT'S a man to do? When Michael Noonan took over as Finance Minister, the poor chap probably naively assumed that he would henceforth spent arid, earnest days locked in his department with a posse of pointy heads poring over figures, statistics, pie charts and the like.

Never, one suspects, in Michael's wildest dreams -- or in fairness, perhaps in the odd wild dream, like most men -- did he anticipate sitting in the Dail being teased about his encounters with a chic, elegant and powerful Parisienne.

But French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde appears to hold quite a fascination for les hommes Irlandais.

Brian Lenihan and herself had great chats in French throughout all the drama of the IMF/EU bailout last year and now the fiscal femme fatale appears to be working her formidable charms on his successor in the job.

For now, every time Monsieur Michel and Madame Christine meet at summits, every nuance of their tête-à-têtes is pored over by politicians, pundits and gurus for a sign that the French are softening their stance on the interest rate on Ireland's bailout.

And this was exercising the mind of Shane Ross in the Dail yesterday afternoon.

He first praised the Finance Minister for putting the heart crossways on the Brussels bigwigs last week with his suggestion that a naughty lit match may be applied to the senior bondholders in Anglo and Irish Nationwide.

"Unfortunately, the minister did then go to Europe yesterday and fell back into the friendly embrace of Madame Lagarde again," tut-tutted Shane as cackles rose all around the chamber.

"Easy, easy," growled the Limerick Lothario, even as he tried to wipe the chuffed look off his visage. Ooh-la-la. But the Independent deputy hadn't quite finished winding up Michael about the shapes he's throwing on the euro dance floor.

"It is a procedure, Minister, which I challenge you to repeat with Madame Merkel when she takes up the issue," he wisecracked.

"That's Enda's woman," chortled Fianna Fail's Barry Cowen -- a statement of ownership which might come as something of a surprise to the German chancellor, should such a suggestion be put to her.

However, Shane wanted to know if the assiduous attentions of Monsieur Michel had been worth the effort.

"You're just jealous," suggested Pat Rabbitte naughtily to Barry.

"Has anything come of this extraordinary courting -- not just of Madame Lagarde, I don't want to personalise it too much," Shane added hastily, not wishing to cast aspersions on the impeccable behaviour of our finance minister -- "but this extraordinary courting of France that we've gone into?"

Enda rose to defend the political honour of his Finance Minister. "Well, French courtship has been a matter of considerable comment over the centuries," he explained, "and I know that Minister Noonan gets on in a professional capacity with all his colleagues in Europe," he added loyally.

Mais oui. But when it comes to the trickier proposition of trying to reason with Madame Lagarde's boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, at the EU summit in Brussels tomorrow, the Taoiseach need only to bear in mind the following piece of philosophy:

How many Frenchmen does it take to change a light bulb?

One. He holds the bulb and the rest of Europe revolves around him.

Irish Independent