An Ghaeilge
An Ghaeilge!

Following the shock decision by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government to further impede the provision of public services to Irish-speaking citizens in favour of their English-speaking peers (or should that be “betters“?)  the Hidden Ireland blog carries this post from Eoin Ó Riain:

“The current government has not made a single decision which encourages the use of Irish among the people.

My basis for this startling statements is the list of hypocritical statements and decisions made, some under the apparent guise of fiscal rectitude and others based on esoteric and dubious linguistic meanderings hidden deep in the inscrutable minds of those who inhabit Merrion Street! It has not made a single decision which encourages those small areas of our people where Irish is the vocabulary to develop and grow as an Irish speaking community. It has not made a single decision which was applauded with enthusiasm by any Irish Language organisation. Indeed the only piece of legislation that it has put on the books, the Gaeltacht Act 2012, was guillotined through the Oireachtas.

As far as I can see they have never produced a single language planning professional, independent (or indeed dependent), in support of their position. All they do time and time again is wheel out a hapless Junior Minister to defend the indefensible (The actual minister of the Gaeltacht appears incapable of speaking to or for the people under his care!).

More readily disposed to use Irish?

The latest debacle is their decision made to abolish a system of attributing points for language proficiency, instituted by the last Fine Gael/Labour inter-party government in 1974. In that year Richie Ryan abolished the requirement for proficiency in both Irish and English in candidates for the civil service. He stated that he was “…satisfied that by replacing the compulsion which did so much damage to the Irish language over the past half century with enthusiasm for the language, we will have people more readily disposed to use Irish.” (see Richie Ryan decision made language marginal 4/2/2011)

Some years ago the Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, made a finding in this matter after two investigations. His report for 2011 stated that these both:

“…found that the Department of Social Protection failed to correctly award bonus marks for competence in Irish and English in internal promotion competitions. 

The system, which is in operation since 1975, was set up as a replacement for ‘compulsory’ Irish, and it was designed to ensure that Irish-speaking staff would be available at all grades in the Civil Service. 

The Department of Social Protection did not appeal the decision of the investigation to the High Court, but neither did it implement the recommendations. That in itself is a matter of concern but the situation is made worse by the knowledge that the practice of failing to award bonus marks correctly is common throughout the Civil Service. ” (Report 2011) 

The fact that the Department did not appeal the decision, as was its right, meant that the finding of the Comisinéir stood. However as they also failed to act on his decision, he laid the matter before the Oireachtas. The relevant Houses of the Oireachtas committee has heard submissions but no report has issued as yet.

Left untried!

Today’s Irish Times reports, “At the weekly Cabinet meeting, Ministers accepted a recommendation by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin to discontinue the bonus points system on the basis that it is an anomaly and its intention of promoting Irish speakers within the Civil Service has not worked.”

Thus instead of having the courtesy of waiting for the report of the Oireachtas Committee the government dictated its own judgement. It stated that the system is an anomaly and does not work. One is tempted to ask “How do you know?” since, as the Comisinéir found, it was not so much that the system failed but rather that the system was never operated.

There is a saying of the eminent English apologist G.K. Chesterton in another matter which comes to mind, ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’ (GKC, What’s Wrong with the World, 1910).

Less than hollow!

The report in today’s Irish Times goes on to say: “Mr Howlin’s department has yet to devise a specific plan to achieve this aim. It has indicated panels will be set aside for those who are fluent or proficient in Irish.”

How this will actually work is not stated. Unlike the Ryan decision we are not even palmed off with a hollow statement that this might be helpful development for the language. In fact it is little less than a further reduction and retreat from minimalist position adopted in 1974, a position which has led to the position that only 1.5% of the staff Department of Education can conduct business in Irish, not to mention the other Departments.

There is no obvious saving of resources in this decision. It appears it is in fact a further change in policy in relation to our language. A policy which will instead of encouraging the use of Irish among Civil Servants will positively militate against its use by establishing quotas. Why would a civil servant seek to improve his knowledge of Irish? It is in fact a further isolated from “real-life!

It is hardly a month ago since the Comisinéir Teanga addressed the opening of Coláiste na Gaeilge in Dublin and spoke about the hypocrisy of successive Governments since 1928. At the conclusion of his address he listed two things to be included in the new Language Act which would demonstrate the current Government’s good-will.

“1. To copperfasten in the Act that every employee dealing with the Gaeltacht community be proficient in the language. 

2. The the position of Irish in staff recruitment to the public service in general be dealt with clearly. 

If these two questions are dealt with in the amendment process (of the Language Act) there would be some hope that progress could be made. If these questions are avoided, or if a lukewarm effort or further wearysome pretences are introduced, we will understand more clearly the state of play and the direction of the wind!” (My translation)

I fear that the Kenny/Gilmore government have given him and us his answer!

The answer is brutal!

Verily we now know the state of play and the direction of the wind!”

For nearly a century the Irish-speaking communities and citizens of Ireland have begged and pleaded for full and equal treatment with their fellow English-speaking countrymen and women. Hibernophones have not asked for access to the resources of the state or recognition of their identity greater than that automatically given to Anglophones. Yet ninety years on from the ending of British colonial rule in the larger part of Ireland and amongst the larger part of the Irish people Irish-speakers remain second-class citizens with second-class rights.

That is the reality of a linguistically apartheid Ireland.

Eoin Ó Riain ends his article by stating that the Hibernophone minority of this island-nation now know which way the wind is blowing.

I will end mind by stating this: the bigoted few of the Anglophone majority have sowed the wind – one day they will reap the whirlwind.

18 comments on “Sowing A Gaelic Storm

  1. Thanks for quoting from my item in The Hidden Ireland. I have never thought of myself as a Hibernophile, though I suppose the term is correct though a little cold! I much prefer the term Gael or Irishman.

    Since the article was written Dinny McGinley, the under-minister given responsibility for the Department of the Gaeltacht (Geographic Irish Speaking area) as the actual minister doesn’t have sufficient proficiency in our (and his) language, claimed that the new policy was a great advance on the 1974 directives which he said “didn’t work!” He was right of course but omitted to state that they didn’t work because, as the article indicates, the civil service never implemented it. I think that possibly that there is a danger it will create a small (very small) ghetto of Civil Servants employed solely for their proficiency in the language.

    “Immeallú gan ceist atá anseo!” (Marginalisation without a doubt) say the Coimisinéir Teanga (Language Ombudsman). I don’t believe he has ever been consulted, indeed he has stated baldly that the system cannot work. This was a glorious possibility missed and the result is detrimental to the language. “One step forward, two steps back!”


    • Hi Eoin, it was a well-written and balanced article that deserved as much publicity and distribution as possible. My own posts tend to the verbose or rhetorical which probably puts some people off. I hope you don’t mind me reposting it. Over three hundred people have read it since Saturday morning going by the stats so the message is out there.

      I used “Hibernophone” to create a didactic contrast with Anglophone. I know its is unusual in English language discussions to use it but it does grab the eye of the reader and hopefully makes them think (it is much more used outside of Ireland in academic circles, though I note that Scott De Buitléir used it not so long ago for a similar juxtaposition with Anglophone).

      I also like the contextual contrast it makes with Francophone and Anglophone in Québec, a similar bilingual nation.

      My own view is that there is a renewed cultural impetus in the civil service/political establishment to purge the Irish language from the institutions of the state by starving it of resources. It is a kick-back against the Official Languages Act (or what is left of it) and the “restrictions” civil servants and allied political colleagues believe were “imposed” on them.

      They don’t have the courage to simply remove the legislation in front of the electorate so they are making it meaningless by taking away any means of implementing it. We can have the Official Languages Act but there will be no means, no resources to implement any of its already half-hearted regulations. And when anyone claims that the “establishment” wants the Irish language and Irish-speakers extinguished they will simply wave the Act in front of peoples faces as “proof” that they don’t.

      Its all smoke and mirrors.


  2. Taking a step back from all the detail, it is rather odd when you look at the language situation in Ireland as compared to Wales. The situation is the exact opposite of what an outsider might expect. Wales is joined on to England physically, with a rather arbitrary border, and the little autonomy it has is all rather recent. Ireland is larger, further away, seperated by the Irish Sea and has been an independent internationally recognised state for almost a century. In many ways the problems faced by both languages are the same, why then is Irish in such a bad way? What went wrong?


    • an lorcánach

      What went wrong? (Read Nicholas Canny’s book on England’s first colony!) — ‘Ireland’ became more English than England – an aberration evident today where a local radio host (on the topic of the Irish language) gave a story where he found himself during the summer next to girls speaking in Irish (together) and *he* felt excluded! Since when has ear-wiggin’ been a right?! — Even some so called “republicans” believe the Irish language sets people apart (inference ‘exclusive’) and allows for comfortable jobs in the public sector but fail to see that’s part of a much wider systemic unaccountable governance by insiders co-opting the native language for the own ends — Developments this week (given hardly any coverage in the English language media) is more evidence that the permanent Irish-EU administration wish that the language (representative of a political culture – republicanism – ideologically in opposition to the European federalist “project”) would just ‘go away’ – with the creation of an ‘EC’ linguistic standard – but tragically this is the fault of Irish people themselves: just as with the wider issue of the economy, the state’s electorate can have as much unemployment as it’s willing to pay in social welfare (to borrow Sir Humphrey’s phrasing), as can the citizen finally jettison the famine-era chip and start speaking/ learning Irish in the morning!


    • @Marconatrix,

      Pádraig Mac Piarais in the very early days of his political awakening was of the opinion that he would be content with “Home Rule” in Ireland if the country became a majority Irish-speaking nation again under a devolved parliament, British legislation and British incentives. In fact in those early days if offered the options of an Irish-speaking Ireland under British rule or an English-speaking Ireland under self-rule he would probably have favoured the former.

      About five years ago I was talking to someone who was then very active in the Irish language community and looking at Wales and what was/had happened there he found himself thinking that An Piarsach was right. He was coming to the opinion that independence for Ireland had been a disaster for its Hibernophone community and that under the British they would have fared better.

      I disagreed. One only has to look at the north-east of Ireland to see that positive legislation on Irish-speaking rights might well never have emerged, from either the British or a Home Rule parliament. The old Irish Parliamentary Party was intensely hostile to Irish language rights which is where the antipathy to Irish comes from in modern Irish political parties. It is a legacy thing, part of the political culture on the Right (Fine Gael) and some on the Left (the present Labour Party leadership as well as Far Left parties like the SP, SWP, etc.).

      An Lorcánach gives a lot of the answer.

      Unlike Wales where support for Welsh cut across most party lines (there were always some Welsh-speaking Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem people as well as Plaid) in Ireland an Anglophone establishment was the de facto rulers of the nation and always worked to undermine or block any movement on Irish language rights or bilingualism.

      Again it goes back to the 19th century, the rise of a political class in the Irish Parliamentary Party who aped British ways while denigrating Irish ways (unless for electoral exploitation) and who simply hated the Irish language.

      Irish and its speaking/promotion became associated with being anti-establishment, rebellious, revolutionary, anarchic, Republican.

      Sinn Féin challenged and defeated the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1916-1922. And Irish was central to its vision of the future.

      When members of the Irish Parliamentary Party or those of similar views retook power in the civil war (counter-revolution) of 1922-23 the first thing they did was attack Irish and those who espoused it, the revolutionaries of the previous decade. Fine Gael is of that legacy – our present coalition government majority party.

      Ever since then Irish has been a political play thing of various political parties. But none have taken it or those citizens and communities who speak it seriously.

      The partial failure/success of the Irish Revolution is also the partial failure/success of the Irish-speaking population of Ireland.

      It remains in stasis.


  3. Seán Mag Leannáin

    ‘My own view is that there is a renewed cultural impetus in the civil service/political establishment to purge the Irish language from the institutions of the state by starving it of resources. It is a kick-back against the Official Languages Act (or what is left of it) and the “restrictions” civil servants and allied political colleagues believe were “imposed” on them.

    They don’t have the courage to simply remove the legislation in front of the electorate so they are making it meaningless by taking away any means of implementing it. We can have the Official Languages Act but there will be no means, no resources to implement any of its already half-hearted regulations.’

    Sionnach Fionn’s comments hit the nail on the head. But if there’s a strategy here I’d say it’s coming from the civil service rather than the political establishment. The political establishment, even the FG/Labour part of it, are not of one mind about Irish. Kenny and Gilmore are both quite supportive (believe it or not), and there are others like Noonan who would definitely not be ‘against Irish’. On the other hand there are those like Richard Bruton, FG’s national director in the recent Seanad referendum who couldn’t even bring himself to say the word Seanad (rather than Senate) during the course of the campaign. The civil service establishment on the other hand are almost 100% united in their view of Irish as an irritating thorn in the administrative butt which cultural Neanderthals like Éamon Ó Cuív would have reinforced through the Official Languages Act. The mandarins know there isn’t political consensus on the issue and they calculate that even to open a public debate on Irish would be to accord it a status it doesn’t desserve. Far better to ignore Irish completely as if it didn’t exist and starve the Official Languages Act of any meaningful resources to implement it. Let the whole thing wither on the vine or, as we Gaeilgeoirí might put it, ‘lig di dul le sruth i dtreo na gcarraigeacha.’


    • an lorcánach

      But that’s just it, Seán – well said: it’s the “permanent government” – the generations after Gaelophiles like TK Whittaker — — my Daid told me once when watching an episode year’s ago on ‘Yes, Minister’ about time when he was last active in the his FF Cumann in the late ’80s that the local TD and minister denied getting Irish letters as it was the civil servants – doubtless they screened all correspondence to the minister (it can’t have been paranoia on my Da’s part!) — — having gone to numerous job interviews since ’97, for various public sector jobs, I’ve rarely met (outside of the Irish oral) a senior public servant who had anything except a visceral dislike of the language ….generalisations aside!


      • My own experiences of civil servants on a social level when the Irish language comes up ranges from dismissal to active hostility.

        I know two Irish-speakers who are employed at low level positions within the two big depts (budget-/staff-wise) and both tell me that they have been made to feel awkward, embarrassed, ashamed for having Irish language names by some Anglophone colleagues. They described it as bullying but not the type you could ever really point a finger at or call out. More an “atmosphere” of derision and animosity.


    • I agree though I would not underplay the political component in the axis of extreme Anglophone prejudice. Fine Gael as a party is ideologically hostile to Irish-speakers and has a long history of such attitudes dating back to the melding of the rump Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin with the remnants of the Irish Parliamentary Party, various Unionist parties and business interests (the early successes of Pro-Treaty SF/Cumman na nGaedhal were down to its speedy assimilation of the old anti-republican Irish Party networks and membership in local parishes and towns, something FG naturally inherited).

      Latterly the Labour Party has become something of a “cold house” for Irish-speaking citizens.

      As for the Far Left, well the SWP/PBP are dismissive of Irish language rights and education as Richard Boyd Barrett made clear on RTÉ.

      The SP have no view as far as one can see though anecdotally I have found some of their members hostile. They certainly have no policies on Irish after 17 years of existence. That says it all really.

      But yes, it is a culture of institutional discrimination against Hibernophones in an Anglophone dominated civil service that drives anti-Irish policies and attitudes in the state.


      • Sionnach Fionn, I’d agree broadly with your analysis of Fine Gael’s position and also your comments on the (so-called) Far Left. In FG’s case the reality is a bit more nuanced – as a state-wide party it inevitably covers a range of views but I’d agree that it’s predominant ideological tendency is against the Irish language. It’s just too redolent of nationalism and possibly Christian Brothers leathering their backsides. They’d just prefer to bin it along with all those other unpleasant memories. It’s interesting though to reflect that no other Government Minister in the history of the State did more to promote the Irish langauge than northern Protestant Earnán de Blaghd, Minister for Finance in the first Cumann na nGael government. Blaghd was the main advocate for pro-Irish policies in that government including the decision to make the language ‘compulsory’ in the education system. Over the years there have been some strong champions of Irish in Fine Gael – the late John Kelly, Attorney-General in the mid-70’s Coalition Government, comes to mind, as would people like the late Seanadóir Pól Ó Foighil and former FG leader Alan Dukes.

        The FG Minister for Education who abolished ‘compulsory’ Irish Richard Burke was himself a good speaker of the language, even though amusingly he tended to speak it (as he did English) in an exaggerated posh accent of uncertain provenance – but at least it set him apart from the usual Gaeilgeoir bog-trotters. Burke also reopened the national school in Dún Chaoin which had previously been closed by FF, thus giving himself and his government some political cover for the decision to abolish compulsory Irish. Even today Taoiseach Enda Kenny would represent this rump of well-educated Fine Gaelers who at least knew the language and were not ashamed to speak it, and to that extent there may still be a residual level of support for Irish in the party. Certainly more than you’ll get from the Far Leftie with the double barrelled name who represents the old constituency of Kingstown – they never all went away, you know ! Gilmore, a good Gaeilgeoir in his own way (to be fair to him), is also aware of the old guard on his doorstep and knows not to take the Gaeilge thing too far.

        I wouldn’t be giving FF any leather medals either for their promotion of the language. Historically their policy has been to appear to be that bit more committed than their rivals. In order to copperfasten the Gaeilgeoir vote (such as it was/is) FF had only to mouth a few more Cúpla Focals than the opposition. With Irish now in its death throes as a living language in the Gaeltacht, while it shows some signs of a renewal among sections of the urban population, the question about its future may yet ignite into a full-scale national debate. If this happens it could make the abortion debate look like an argument at a school girls’ picnic. If a cultural war does erupt around Irish it’ll be interesting to see where FF and SF make their pitch. They wouldn’t be the first Tadhg an Dá Thaobhs. But given the history to date I think we’re more likely to end up debating the pros and cons of same sex marriage. I’m looking forward already to reading the Irish version of the Referendum Commission’s booklet with the opposing arguments on that topic.


        • smagl, some good points worth making. I had forgotten about Earnán de Blaghd though the early CnanG was a very different creature in the 1920s from its 1930s descendant in Fine Gael. And even more so now.

          One expects more of Left Wing parties when it comes to community or personal rights, civil rights, but when Hibernophones are mentioned their ideological breast-thumping ardour is suddenly extinguished.

          FF is as bad as FG. However instead of active hostility they just espouse active disinterest.

          If there was ever a “culture war” in this nation over Irish language rights it would be quickly suppressed. Power grows from the barrel of a gun and the extreme of the Anglophone community have all the metaphorical weapons on their side. And they are not afraid to use them.


  4. Lorcan, as someone who spent over 30 years in the civil service I had first hand experience of that visceral dislike of Irish among the majority of top civil servants. Most of them of course are too cute to express it openly … their usual tactic is to demean the language by simply ignoring it and marginalising those few who are foolish enough to try to promote it. It’s hard to understand the reasons for this visceral dislike of Irish. Some of these civil servants would actually have gone to Irish colleges such as Coláiste Mhuire and almost all of them would have been educated in religious-run Catholic schools. Their lower middle class Catholic-educated background seemed to combine with an avaricious social ambition to leave many of them with a serious chip on their shoulder, a sort of insecurity that their social betters might see them as just bog Irish or jumped-up Jackeens – God forbid. In fairness I think there was also an embarrassment on the part of the more intelligent ones about their own absymal ignorance of the language. I think the upcoming generation may have a more positive attitude to Irish but by then it may be too late to save what’s left of it. There can be no doubt that over the years through a combination of ignorance and incompetence agents of the Irish state actively served to undermine the standing of the language in the Gaeltachts and for this it is hard to forgive the governments of various hues who were supposed to be exercising political oversight.


    • Sounds similar to what I have heard or been told anecdotally myself.

      But can the “club” be changed from the inside or do new members simply conform to the existing culture and atmosphere?

      The Official Languages Act was supposed to be a catalyst for change in the most mild of forms.

      Yet civil servants in several departments have fought it tooth and nail. In many cases they have simply ignored or broke the regulations demanded under the law, and got away with it.


    • an lorcánach

      smagl: during the summer i went hill walking in wicklow with a friend who brought along others as well as a nice chap from the dept of foreign affairs — — not sure how a particular conversation started on irish but he talked about reading with his son tolkien: i mentioned that there was a new publication in irish of ‘the hobbit’ and he asked if i spoke irish but it seemed more disheartened-disinterest more than anything on his part…. thought i’d mention that as all my other encounters with anglophone public servants were negative, from the standard “what’s ó lorcáin in english”, to “irish is a dead language….” (incidentally ‘the hobbit’ is available now to buy in latin!) @


  5. It’s interesting that there was unanimous cross-party support for the Official Languages Act when it was going through the Dáil – proof in itself that the legislation was seen as just another round of positive sentiment about the language and that it wouldn’t mean very much in practice. Ó Cuív himself was reported to have said if it was generally known what rights the Bill was conferring on Irish speakers that there would be an outcry from a section of the general public (I’m paraphasing from memory the words he used). In reality the rights conferred by the legislation were quite limited but the important point was that it did actually confer certain rights in legislative form for the first time. To this extent it does provide cover for Irish speakers in pursuing their linguistic rights with the State. But in the eyes of the mandarins this is exactly what made it ‘a crank’s charter’ – to use a phrase that was common in their circles at the time. It may be that Irish speakers are only now realising the potential leverage the legislation affords them and hence the gathering covert kick-back we’re now seeing from the civil service establishment and their political allies.


    • Wasn’t part of the rational for the Official Languages Act centred on Ó Cuív’s belief that a future Supreme Court judgement on Article 8 (and 8.3) could have forced something “far worse” on the state, official bilingualism with a constitutional imperative behind it? It was argued behind closed doors that the Act as drafted would stymie the potential need for a far more comprehensive one down the line.

      I think Ó Cuív was wrong (8.3 is clearly a “get-out” clause to permit exclusive English language usage) but at least he did something, albeit maybe for the wrong reasons.

      I suspect that 8.3 will be used as legal cover to gut the Act. Not to mention the possibility of the whole Article being changed to remove the status of Irish as recommend by the Constitution Review Group a few years ago (also see here).


  6. Móran taing dhuibh uile. ‘S beag an t-iongnadh nach eil daoine taobh a-muigh na h-Éirinn ‘ga thuigsinn! But what are the prospects for the Irish without the language? Second rate Englishmen? Americans who missed the boat? Isn’t there perhaps some sort of identity crisis behind all of this? Who btw if anyone is actively campaigning for the language? If a place isn’t quickly made for Irish in public life, everyday interaction, then all the increasing good work of the Gaelic medium schools could quickly go to waste. I hope you’ll forgive my confusion and intrusion, I suppose after all this is a sort of ‘family matter’.


    • The argument made by extreme Anglophone opinion in Ireland is that Americans, Australians and New Zealanders have their distinct national identity through the medium of English so why not the Irish? They deny that there is any link between Irish national identity and the Irish language. Indeed the creeping argument is now that modern Irish national identity is only legitimate if expressed through the medium of English.

      Or to put it another way Irish-speakers are “Gaels” not Irish, a recalcitrant indigenous minority. Hence the insistence in some circles of saying “Gaelic language” never the “Irish language”. I think Gombeen Nation represents this discriminatory tendency at its best (or worse):

      “Be Conradh na Gaeilge, it seems. These gobshites who, in their previous incarnation as the Gaelic League, helped ruin Ireland’s education system by sitting on school governing committees and insisting the Irish education system be geared more toward Gaelic revivalism than education (see Tom Garvin – Preventing The Future). These Government-funded arsebags have got Varadkar’s ear just like that.

      Now if this quango of hobbyists and Gaelic-language lobbyists gets its way, we will have even more nonsensical and confusing road signage than we have at present, with priority (thanks to the odious O’Cuiv’s Language Act) given to a “language” that only a tiny minority of elitists and cultural nationalists actually speak…along with their mother-tongue Hiberno-English.

      They know what the country needs, begob.

      In Ireland, it is all about creating bureaucracy and promoting the deluded notion that we are a nation of Gaelic speakers, long after the Irish ditched their peasant (and spoken only) babble for modernity and progress.”

      Notice the denigration of those campaigning for the rights of Irish-speaking citizens and communities, contempt for even the idea of equality between those who choose to speak Irish or English, the insinuation that Irish is not a language (hence the inverted commas), that it was a language without any written form and that it was a mere “babble”, a barbarian or inchoate form of speech.

      Gombeen is amongst the nastier of the on-line Anglophone supremacists in Ireland which is a pity because in many other ways he holds fairly liberal and progressive views. However it is views like the above that lead to his lauding by some elements of the news media group-think. And that is what the Irish-speaking population of this nation is up against. People who genuinely loathe and detest each and every member of it.

      As I have said many times before, it is not that the Anglophone fanatics hate the Irish language – they hate those who speak the Irish language.


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