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The day 'Chopper' rolled into town

THE Chopper cometh -- but he seems a mild-mannered sort.

The least welcome man in Ireland strolled out of the Merrion Hotel in Dublin yesterday morning and began his journey towards the Central Bank, ready to rip up the books and offer the country billions.

Ajai Chopra, deputy director of the IMF's European department, stepped out about 8.45am and set off for Dame Street, refusing to comment as he walked. Small, bespectacled and with a natty brown satchel over his shoulder, it was inevitable Chopper would look harmless and almost anonymous.

And, much to the pleasure of the various photographers capturing his every step, beggars on the route held out tatty coffee cups hoping Chopper would throw a few coins their way.

But while Taoiseach Brian Cowen was adopting the "I can't believe it's not butter" approach to whether the IMF landing here represented a bailout, Mr Chopra's presence on the streets of Dublin spelt just one thing: endgame.

It's a well worn path from the plush Merrion to the Central Bank at this stage, with that other harbinger of doom, Olli Rehn, also making the trip last week.

Yes, it was only last week. How quickly events have moved. But the appearance of Chopper -- whose minimum €200 a night hotel tab is being footed by the IMF -- at the bank seemed slightly anti-climactic.

Socialist Joe Higgins and others picketed the Department of Finance, leaving a sole member of the Communist Party of Ireland to protest with a hammer and sickle on Dame Street.

But Mr Chopra wasn't the only game in town. Other teams from the IMF, ECB and European Commission were also holed up in unknown locations across the city yesterday.

Hopeful reporters shouted "IMF? EU? ECB?" at those exiting the Central Bank, since nobody was really sure what the international officials looked like.

The Department of Finance wouldn't say where the Swat teams were, or even who they were, and the Central Bank only confirmed meetings were taking place in the Central Bank, among other locations. Nice one lads, we only saw Mr Chopra walk in the front door.

The lights outside the bank came on when darkness fell in the late afternoon -- at least Chopper hasn't turned them off yet.

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Eventually, Financial Regulator Matthew Elderfield left the Central Bank around 4.20pm, and hopped in a taxi. Then it was Chopper's turn, and he and his staff jumped into taxis just before five.

Never mind the air of despondency hanging around the nation -- at least one man will be happy with his day's work yesterday. The Dublin taxi driver who picked up Chopper will be dining out on this for years.

"Here, you'll never believe who I bleedin' had in the back of the cab last night," you can almost hear him say. "Only your man from the IMF. I told him where to go."

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