What type of party should a new Fine Gael leader be asked to lead?

The by now weekly calls from various people that the talk about the leadership race is a distraction remind me of a driver in their car bemoaning all the traffic around them. It’s those very calls that keep the talk going and it seems to be forgotten by the many people making those calls that what kicked off the talk in the first place was the deadline or precondition of not leading the party into the next election that An Taoiseach himself created.

The party is lucky in my view to have a number of individuals who can take on the role of leader but all the talk about who the leader should be, when the contest should be and so on is entirely the wrong discussion for Fine Gael to be having.

The right discussion to have is about what type of party Fine Gael should be and what course it should be trying to travel in and what its destination is to be and only after that has happened can we talk about what person is best suited to leading that party. Deciding on a leader whether based on personality or legislative achievements while not being clear in our own heads about what the party stands for and what it aims to achieve is the proverbial cart horse scenario of yore. In the last 12 months, there have been references to the Just Society document that one would believe it was a holy tract. Others have made references to key phrases like the individual or enterprise that are intended to serve as shorthand for something or other, yet none of those invocations of well worn phrases should take the place of a proper debate, a really robust examination of what the party should stand for the next part of the 21st century.  We’ve moved past bare bones austerity (cos it worked though most are loath to admit it) but we now need to move into a different phase when new goals can be seen as achievable if we’re realistic and honest about what’s need to achieve them e.g. we can have a better more equitable health service but only if we change how it is funded, and run and what is believes it is trying to do. There are many other areas to be explored too and that exploration needs to tackle place before a new leader is chosen.

Party Members are not mere passengers in the good ship Fine Gael, they’re the crew and the energy behind the party.They are the ones who literally bail out the party when the going gets too stormy. It is they that should come together to decide the future destination and to chart the course that the party needs to go on before deciding on the type of captain to take us there.

And in order to do that members need to be talking about that in the coming months in advance of their branch and constituency AGMs, and this discussion should be well advanced before whatever Ard Fheis or National Conference gathering may be planned for later on in the year.

My interest is in ensuring that both the current and any future leadership of the party reflects the thinking, views and experience of the party membership. Many of whom believe that the problems they pointed out both before and after the 2014 elections (the pig’s ear of reviewing medical cards without some basic common sense ground rules for those with life long conditions or terminal illnesses or the decidedly unsilk purse like mess made of Irish Water and many other issues) were not listened to in the planning for the 2016 election. Those members still feel that they were proved correct in their analysis of where the problems were and the mistakes made but that months after the two reports (Coy and the Parlimentary Party one) into the election were published that progress is not moving at the pace it should be.

With that in mind I believe the party members should start to organise their own regional gatherings over the next few months around the country. Events that are primarily focused on members talking to one another and not the usual top table lead events that serve as public speaking practice for some of the lesser lights of the parliamentary party. And to bring the ideas from those gatherings together, to collaborate on developing a common agreed direction for the party to go in, and to make the next Ard Fheis or national gathering a place of debate and discussion, even dissension and division (by voting) instead of a glorified and highly costly photo op.

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Equal pay for equal work – really?

The slogan in use by the ASTI is “Equal pay for equal work.”

Yet we all know that teachers teach a variety of class sizes, of students with different abilities and challenges, in a variety of scholastic and social environments, and across a range of subjects. There are teachers in disadvantaged areas doing Trojan work in the most difficult of circumstances who are not paid as they should be compared to their colleagues in more comfortable surroundings. Teachers doing very different work, yet they are all being paid the same. That is not equal pay for equal work.

Experience should make a teacher better but it’s not guaranteed to do so; and surely talent, aptitude and flair must be factors too. The automatic assumption that someone with 10 years experience is better than someone with 5 years experience. That is not equal pay for equal work.
We all remember the names of the teachers who inspired us, who helped us be better at subjects we found hard and excel at those we were capable at, and if we remember their names at all, we shrug our eyes and roll our shoulders at those who went through the motions. This is true whether you’re 70 plus, 40 odd, just out of school or still in it. Yet the ones reading from the Cliff notes or their equivalent, or told you to read ahead in silence while they stepped out for a smoke or a chat were and are paid the same as the ones who follow you into the Pass class to encourage you back into Hons. cos they knew and said it before the class that you had the ability to master it, or who customises how they teach to suit the weaker and stronger students. That is not equal pay for equal work.

Benchmarking was supposed to eliminate differences between people doing the same type of work whether in the public or private sphere. In the private sector the more in demand and more rare your skills the higher your pay will be. Not in teaching. All teachers received the same increases from benchmarking regardless of what actual competition there was for their skills; whether they taught Irish or Maths, German or Geography. That is not equal pay for equal work.

This inequality exists because of a pay system based almost entirely on scales that give the most weight to what qualifications they had when starting out and how long they’ve been in the position. Nothing about the nuanced nature of the work being done this year compared to last. It is a system that suits a union leadership wedded to 19th century concepts of labour and collective thinking. That what matters least is what you as an individual contribute but rather what group you can be most easily fitted into.

For the ASTI it’s clear that the slogan “Equal pay for equal work” is superficial at best and misleading at worst. It ill serves the teachers who are working the hardest and doing the most to the benefit of the majority. We should pay brilliant teachers magnificently and the more moderate ones adequately, the less that moderate should be ushered into other professions. That would be unequal pay for unequalled work.

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The Muddled Majority

Recent opinion polls in the Irish Times and elsewhere have highlighted a curious mismatch in the public discourse on the 8th amendment. The majority of people (55% according to the Irish times) seem to be of the view that sometimes, just sometimes, the least worst. most medically appropriate, decent, compassionate and realistic option is to allow for the termination of a pregnancy; even where that pregnancy had been very much wanted. That this should be available safely, legally and within Ireland. That the circumstances that would give rise to a recourse to this action should be, if at all possible, minimised or eliminated, whether through the further development of medical science or the rigorous enforcement and vigilance of the criminal justice system where crimes are the cause of the pregnancy. In other words that the need would be as rare as possible and that we as a society should be doing all that we can to make it so.

Yet, listen to our airwaves, read our papers, and consider the views most commonly voiced in our politics and you’ll see that these are dominated by the views of the extreme ends of the debate which are supported by just 19% and 18% of people. So long as those are allowed to dictate the discourse and shape how this issue is dealt with then, so it would seem we are doomed to fail to deal sensibly and decently with the messy reality of being human beings.

We see that modern medicine can prolong life long beyond when a person can’t make use or enjoyment of it especially when disease has debilitated them or left them in constant pain and so we’re kind of but not entirely comfortable with the notion that the individual should be able to choice when to depart this life. Yet we’re scared what that might mean for ourselves one day. We see that sometimes a much wanted pregnancy is not going to end as hoped for and that a couple may feel unable to endure a long slow agony of letting gone, and prefer instead to bring that to a more sudden perhaps more manageable stop. Yet we see that others may prefer to endure and indeed enjoy every moment that they’ve given however short that might be. And we’re unsure which we’d be if it came right down to it, and we’re conscious that it may, just may, represent a slippery slope to the avoidance of progressive wider and wider forms of what might be termed less optimal outcomes. That it might lead to the elimination of many forms of what some term imperfection, that others would call a core part of a rich human diversity.

So we’re unsure and we’re confused and we’re not neat or hard or fast in our opinions and the 18 and the 19% shout us down, and dismiss us and our muddle as unworthy of consideration. Yet without us they can’t change anything, and if it’s change that’s needed then the tidy mess needs to be acknowledged and listened to and taken on board otherwise change will not happen and the status quo will remain in effect. Isn’t that also a large part of the problem of modern life and the politics of it that many of the issues we’re grappling with are too untidy and too messy to fit neatly into any particular predefined boxes. We want to support others who are less fortunate than others and are willing to do so through our taxes but we’ve also got a lot of things we’d like to do ourselves with the money we’ve earned and so we’re constantly caught in two minds between want to ensure others are ok but that we’re ok too. We make compromises with ourselves and then try and find ways to break them. We want to be free to do what we want without the interference of others, while retaining the right to interfere in the choices of others.

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A test post for new site.


Shock-absorbing pads fall away from the surfac...

Shock-absorbing pads fall away from the surface of an MGM-118A Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile as it emerges from its launch canister. This is the first test launch of the Peacekeeper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Open Letter to Michael McDowell re: use of data in Seanad campaign

Dear Michael,

I had supplied my email address to Democracy Matters in order to be kept informed on matters pertinent to its ongoing campaign to retain and reform Seanad Éireann. I did not sign up to participate in or endorse your personal campaign to be elected to the Seanad.

That broader campaign to retain and reform the Seanad and your own personal campaign are not one and the same thing.

I have not asked that my contact details be deleted from Democracy Matters but rather why you are using Democracy Matters resources for your own supposedly independent campaign. For you to say that if I do not wish to be informed about your campaign for the Seanad that I am deemed to be no longer supportive of the retention and reform of the Seanad and would be deleted shows a conflation of the personal with Democracy Matters that is troubling.

This behaviour mirrors much of what is termed astro turfing in the US. It is a well stage managed campaign but one that now appears to be built on a false premise. Is Democracy Matters even still functionally in existence? The Website appears to be defunct http://www.democracymatters.ie/ , the email I sent it has bounced, there have been no recent public events or emails about same and the twitter account is only retweeting the comments of others.

I along with many hundreds of others campaigned to retain the Seanad and went door to door doing so, but I don’t recall any communication with those people before your candidacy was announced. Unlike you I don’t have a vote for the Seanad election, but that means I, like the millions of others disenfranchised, have some skin in the skin when it comes to Seanad reform. Why was there no communication to those doing the legwork when the prospect of an open Seanad seat became visible? Was there a convention, were people invited to participate in the process of selecting a candidate, was there a hustings, was Democracy Matters involved in that at all? If not then how are you in a position to use its resources to support your campaign?

It is clear now that Democracy Matters was a closed shop, open to all when it suited, to lend weight to events/meetings and to drop leaflets and canvass, but involving people on an invitation only basis to the inner circle when it came to dividing up the spoils. Hereditary and the passing on of Oireachtas seats within families is one of the worst aspects of Irish politics but it is little better when an Oireachtas seat is passed on from one insider to another via some Romanesque nepotism with a public laying on of hands.

This lax attitude to the separation of information you happen to have access to in one role from its use for the benefit of another role you are pursuing could almost be understood in some neophyte in their 20s stumbling into a national election fresh from a SU hustings. However in an former AG and Minister for Justice who lead the way on the introduction of extensive data retention laws that have been since found to be against EU law it is inexcusable.

That your instinct is to see no difference between this organisation and yourself personally and your access to and use of data provided to it is unnerving. Especially since you in your role as Minister for Justice introduced data retention laws that subsequently lead on to the European Data Retention Directive of 2006. Such a combination of a casual attitude to the use of data and the support of imposition of the state in the retention of data for long periods begs the question of where is the liberalism in this Seanad Race, where will be the defence of the individual against larger entities be they state. corporate or campaigning organisations such as Democracy Matters?

Yours sincerely,
Daniel Sullivan

Dear Daniel

I refer to your recent email.

I wrote to you on the understanding that you, like many others, had supplied your email address to Democracy Matters in order to be kept informed on matters pertinent to its ongoing campaign to retain and reform Seanad Éireann.

My email to you was written to convey to you the fact that Senator Feargal Quinn was not standing for election on this occasion and that he had invited me, as another of the co-founders of Democracy Matters, to contest the Seanad election to ensure that the Seanad reform programme of Democracy Matters would continue to be represented in the Oireachtas, and to seek your support in that endeavour.

If I am mistaken in believing that you supplied your email address for the purpose of being kept informed about matters concerned with the ongoing aims of the Democracy Matters campaign or if you no longer wish to receive any emails on such matters, I will of course delete your email address from any further circulation of information relating to the aims of Democracy Matters.

Yours sincerely,

Michael McDowell

Dear Michael,

I would appreciated it if you could you enlighten me as to how you come have this email address?

Is it from the Democracy Matters mailing list collected for the campaign to retain the Seanad?

If so then both your use of it for your own election campaign and the fact that Democracy Matters have made it available to you are matters of serious concern. I would appreciated a response on this issues as early as possible.

regards Daniel Sullivan

Dear friend,

In 2013, you and I and hundreds of others from across Irish society – such as Noel Whelan, Senator Katherine Zappone, Senator Joe O’Toole, and Senator Feargal Quinn – came together and campaigned to defeat the proposed abolition of Seanad Eireann, on the promise and in the belief that it could be reformed into a meaningful and effective organ of Irish democracy. Democracy Matters was singularly responsible for the retention of the Seanad and the campaign is one in which I am still proud to have been involved.

Regrettably, and despite efforts both from within and from outside the Seanad, there has been little progress or reform since. The Report of the Working Group on Seanad Reform, chaired by my friend Maurice Manning, was warmly welcomed but now appears consigned to gather dust.

In recent months, Senator Quinn informed me of his decision not to seek re-election to the Seanad on the NUI Panel in 2016, and invited me to run in his place. I have accepted his invitation, with the aim of being elected to the Seanad to lead a movement for reform from within the Oireachtas.

If you, or anyone you know, is a registered NUI graduate, I would be honoured and grateful for a Number 1 vote in the forthcoming election.

The voting process is quite straightforward but you need to be aware of it in order to play your part. Shortly after March 21st, you will receive by registered post:

A ballot paper
A declaration of identity form
Two envelopes
Ballot papers must reach NUI by 11am on April 26th.

The identity form must be signed by the voter and by a witness and returned with the ballot paper. If you are not at home when the ballot paper arrives, the postman will leave a docket informing you that the documents can be collected from the Post Office. If these are uncollected after three days, the envelope will be returned to NUI. On request to the NUI, the ballot paper will be re-sent to you – please email elections@nui.ie.

I enclose a PDF of my campaign leaflet which sets out my priorities if elected to the NUI Panel. If you have any queries or would like to assist us, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Michael McDowell

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Free advice to Seanad Candidates (NUI/TCD)

So you’ve gotten yourself nominated for the Seanad for either the NUI or TCD panels. Good for you!

Now the bad news. You won’t get much of a chance to build your profile during the campaign itself. The media don’t much care and even 10 minutes of national radio won’t get you much attention.

For those at the younger end of the spectrum they should note that most of those registered and by extrapolation voting are much older than people seem to think they should be. Sure there’s been an enormous increase in graduate numbers of the last 20 years but unfortunately up to 90% of many of those years aren’t registered at all. Even those that are will be more likely to have their parents address instead of their current address.

Pay for the electronic copy of Seanad register and look at who is registered on your local area, and go door to door! You’d be amazed at how effective it can be.

Use a search service that generates a map based on xls imports and you’re then going to be able to plan a nice walking route. Make sure it’s one that doesn‘t necessarily retain the data though, you don’t want to breach any data protection regulations.

Don’t go mad with glossy A4 leaflets or paying for mail outs to people, you’re not going to see the return on it that you’d be expecting.

Be aware that the penetration of the litir um thoghchán isn’t 100% effective, in some/many instances people will get it after the votes have been sent back and even in some cases after the deadline for sending the votes in has passed.

You might tell yourself and some voters may even tell you that they’ll research each of the candidates and weigh up all the pros and cons, the ins and outs before making their decision. However 90% won’t remotely do that. They will either not have the time or the inclination to invest 5 minutes per candidates, equating to over 3 hours of research, before deciding how to vote.

The process that most of the voters appear to use, especially when confronted by a large ballot paper is to scan down and perhaps across it if a butterfly ballot is used, and see which names they recognise. From those 5/8 names, they’ll make their decisions on who gets their first votes. After that it’s going to be pretty random.

The biggest factor you need to deal with before they look at the ballot at all is name recognition, if they’ve heard of you before now and have formed an opinion then you’re half way to getting elected. And here’s the rub even if 80% of people the electorate have a strongly negative perception while 5% think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, while the remaining 15% are middling indifferent, you could well get elected. Why? Cos the turnout is usually 35% of so, 35% of 103,000 is about 36,000 and that gives a quota of 9,000. However the vote is going to be heavily fractured so someone with 5% true believers amongst that 103,000 on the register is starting the first count on 5,150 votes.

The vote you’ll get compared to someone else is no reflection on who you are as a person compared to anyone else. Just because they got 900 votes compared to your 450 doesn’t mean they’re twice as capable as you or twice as kind or humane. Keep that in mind when consider the person on 225 votes too!

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Fine Gael decision making process on government formation

Were Fine Gael to make a decision on participation in government with FF – a process in which FF members would have a direct involvement, while we’ll have none – it will stuck in the craw of our members for far longer than the likely political careers of those who making such a decision on our behalf.

While it is not explicitly required by the party rules, if FF members (by means of a special Ard Fheis) are included when our members are excluded, it puts we, the ordinary members of supposedly the likely senior government party, in the ha’penny place.

It is those voiceless members who have spent many hours and days speaking to voters, those vote-less members who selected most of ye as candidates at conventions. and it is those same powerless members whose continuing support is vital to any campaigning to have the party returned to government in future.

To have FF members participate directly in the decision to go into government with us while our own FG members are outside the window looking in, will send a clear message that we’re to be the poor relations in the arrangement. Any suggestion based on some “informal consultation process” while FF members get to cast a ballot will be unlikely to salve the wound such a process will inflict on party cohesion.

Be well aware that if we were to form a government with FF, their backbenchers and members locally will spend every moment of that time making pretence to be the local and vocal opposition to any potentially unpopular government decisions while also being the first to claim credit for anything positive. e..g each increase in the old age pension will be hailed as sign of what compassionate FF were able to do against those heartless people in FG. Ignoring the cold reality that it was their bankrupt policies that might there was no money for increases the last few years. It’ll make the relationship between the late Jackie Healy Rae and former minister John O’Donoghue appear a model of cordiality.

Above all, we should be mindful of the fable of the scorpion and the frog. If this decision is to be made, then it would be best made by all of the party or not at all.
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Dublin Bay North 1st Count Prediction

Below is my personal predictions for Dublin Bay North.

2011 Votes for DNC and DNE collected together

2011 Candidate Votes
FG Terence Flanagan 12332 15.30%
Lab Tommy P Broughan 10006 12.41%
FG Richard Bruton 9685 12.01%
Lab Aodhan O Riordain 8731 10.83%
Ind Finian McGrath 5986 7.43%
SF Larry O’Toole 5032 6.24%
FF Seán Haughey 5017 6.22%
FG Naoise O Muiri 4959 6.15%
FF Averil Power 4794 5.95%
Lab Seán Kenny 4365 5.41%
SF Helen McCormack 2140 2.65%
Ind Eamonn Blaney 1773 2.20%
PBP John Lyons 1424 1.77%
Ind Jimmy Guerin 1283 1.59%
AAA Brian Greene 869 1.08%
GP David Healy 792 0.98%
GP Donna Cooney 501 0.62%
Ind Raymond Sexton 351 0.44%
Ind Paul Clarke 331 0.41%
Ind Robert Eastwood 242 0.30%
FG vote 26976 33.46%
Lab 23102 28.66%
FF 9811 12.17%
SF 7172 8.90%
GP 1293 1.60%
PBP+AAA 2293 2.84%
Ind 9,966 12.36%


2016 Projections

2016 Candidate Votes Percentage
Ind Finian McGrath 8500 11.44%
FG Richard Bruton 7231 9.74%
FF Seán Haughey 7006 9.43%
SF McDonnacha 5396 7.27%
SocDems O’Callaghan 4978 6.70%
FF Heney 4875 6.56%
Lab Aodhan O Riordain 4752 6.40%
SF Mitchell 4688 6.31%
Lab Tommy P Broughan 4239 5.71%
FG Naoise O Muiri 3819 5.14%
Renua Terence Flanagan 3789 5.10%
Ind Averil Power 3351 4.51%
PBP John Lyons 2781 3.74%
Ind Jimmy Guerin 1894 2.55%
AAA Michael O’Brien 1843 2.48%
FG Stephanie Regan 1792 2.41%
GP Donna Cooney 1298 1.75%
Ind Peter O’Neill 1244 1.67%
Ind Paul Clarke 458 0.62%
Ind Prionias O’Conarain 337 0.45%
FG vote 12893 17.36%
Lab 4688 6.31%
FF 11881 16.00%
SF 9217 12.41%
GP 1244 1.67%
PBP+AAA 4573 6.16%
Renua 3789 5.10%
SocDems 4752 6.40%
Ind 27,576 37.13%


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That Sunday Times BandA poll

For those that are interested the full poll pdf is here.


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Stability + Plus

The campaign run by Fine Gael is coming in for some criticism, some of it justified, some

Pakoras 2

Pakoras 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of it not, some of it just barking. It was always going to be necessary for an incumbent government party to run a a campaign referencing their period in Government but as they say eaten bread is quickly forgotten and people tend to vote more for the future and not based on the past. Fine Gael was quite clear in 2011 that the job they wanted to do was a multi-term effort, unlike their partners in government they were emphatic that it could not be done without causing pain and would most certainly take more than one term to deliver on the changes the were advocating.

So my thinking was that the campaign should be one that references the 1st term s a foundation period, one that acknowledged that it had involved a lot of unpleasant, unpopular, dirty and disruptive work. It was messy and brutal and hard for many, many people but also we’re through that point now. Yet it was work that needed to be completed quickly, by getting a roof on our economic problems and sealing the national house from the elements, while the economic weather held. This is the obvious Stability element.

You would call out those opposed to the actions of the first term by a twin track of highlighting those who kept saying there were fairer alternatives to the actions taken for their failure to present those magical fairer options in detail beyond catch phrases and indeed to implement them while in government and those who said that the approach of what was once term fiscal rectitude or living within your means would never, never work, for the fact that clear it has worked. Even if the effects, much like the early days of the Celtic Tiger, aren’t yet being felt everywhere.

The 2nd term would naturally be very different in focus, as it built on the foundations but concentrated on the next phase, the work of fitting out the house when you decide what to do with the rooms and what to put in them and how much you can afford to spend on different items and where you have to prioritise your spending.

The 2nd term would be where you removed emergency measures such the USC and where previous public spending capacity was restored but with a greater focus on service delivery, rather than simply increased pay for doing existing work, and where newer services could be rolled out, given the broadening of the tax base that has taken place. This is the first Plus, and it’s the Vision element that was in captured in a previous manifesto entitled Vision with Purpose.

Then you highlight the fact that despite being called in 3/4 times in the last 50 years to stablise the state after the actions of FF led governments, that the people had never tried the option of seeing just what a FG lead 2nd term might offer. Indeed you could say that it would be frankly bizarre that anyone would give credence to putting the folks who burnt the last house down in charge of the next stage when they did so much damage and then claimed some bad boys (the Lehman gang) did it and ran away. Or that we’d look at putting in charge those folks from next door who’ve never seemed to be able to get on with the others in their house and who’ve demolished their own residence multiple times over and had to ask us and others to fund their reconstruction again and again. That for me is the 2nd Plus.

The people clearly want, and indeed I would say need, a different style of government from this point on, and let’s face it that’s what’s on offer from everyone next week.  Yet it’s also true that the previous 5 years could only have delivered us the progress we’ve made with a government of the type we’ve just had. There was no other realistic, sensible alternative on offer.

The question then when you could to vote is do you go with the option of trusting those who’ve previously landed us in the messes of the past, or those who want to dig up the foundations and start all over again (SF, AAA-PBP, SP,WP etc), or take the option, never taken before, of seeing what the 2nd term of the current coalition might actually look like – in reality and not inside of the minds of those who claim without any evidence that Fine Gael are unduly wedded to the Right. Good governance isn’t about showtime or spectaculars; it’s typically mundane, dull, even prosaic. There’s still time to ante up on the PlusPlus side of things.

*I had intended writing this up back in October but a of lack of time and a combination of a presumption that surely someone else with more influence has thought of this already and an awareness that next to no one was likely to take it on-board given its source meant it never got done.

** There’s a rather lazy C++ joke in the title. Please forgive me.

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