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ANDREW LYNCH SAYS: As IMF's Chopper hits town, what should Noonan do?

Nice timing, Chopper. In the week that Ireland celebrates its national independence, the reappearance of Ajai Chopra on the streets of Dublin is a chilling reminder that our country is still in economic receiv- ership.

The inimitable Mary O'Rourke has described Michael Noonan as "a wise old head" -- and whether or not he takes that as a compliment, the new Minister for Finance will certainly need all the wisdom he has in his crunch talks with the IMF director today.

The agenda in front of the two men is a long one. They will discuss the recapitalisation of the banks, the terms of Ireland's bailout and the balance of tax hikes and spending cuts in next December's Budget. Out of all this, some kind of messy compromise will eventually be hammered out.

As they size up their options, however, Noonan and Chopra must keep one crucial fact in mind. While the Irish people accept that the country needs help from outside, we also need to feel that we still have at least some control over our own destiny.

Last month, the electorate gave an overwhelming mandate to a new Fine Gael-Labour coalition -- and they expect the promises that were made in that campaign to be kept.

When French president Nicolas Sarkozy tried to bully Ireland into raising its corporate tax rate last Friday, Enda Kenny reportedly told him where to get off. This is exactly the kind of fighting spirit that Noonan needs to show as well.

He may not have a particularly strong hand to play in this high-stakes game of poker, but the public will never forgive him if he is not seen to keep fighting until the last card is dealt.

The new Government has got off to a pretty good start. Cutting ministers' Mercs and perks may not be a huge deal in itself, but it sends out a powerful symbol that this administration is more in touch with public opinion than the last lot.

All that would be ruined if an ashen-faced Noonan appeared on the steps of the Department of Finance and announced that his promise to reverse the €1 minimum wage cut was no longer an option.

St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. The least Michael Noonan can do is drive a hard bargain for a country that has already suffered more than enough.

alynch@herald.ie