South Belfast 2015 A bridge too far?

South Belfast is hotting up as a potential electoral touchstone for the forthcoming elections. Within the nationalist camp we have the increasingly blunderingly percievied  incumbent, Dr Al versus the “social media and finger on the pulse” expert, Máirtin O’M. If the SDLP had an ounce of media management sense the well meaning leader would not be let out without a team of minders in possession of a short leash and a well written script. A well worn dictum of the dark arts of PR is never to let a silence fill the airwaves of a disaster. A worse decision is to fill the silence with bluff and bluster.

Sinn Fein seldom make that elementary mistake. That may be a crucial difference come May.

Who will win come May in South Belfast?

This is now a nationalist seat. Unthinkable 20 years ago but now a fact

The only chance Unionism has of winning this seat is via a “pact”.

Think about that that for a minute. Could you imagine Carson, the Dubliner, Paisley or Craigavon admitting that South Belfast could fall to a non Unionist candidate? Let alone squabbling about how to stop “themmuns” keeping the seat.

What we have is eleven pro union parties and two pro reunification parties so far.

Game on






Where are we now?

I’d like to extend my best wishes to all who read this blog for the new year. I trust everyone had a great Christmas and thanks for bearing with me during my recent quiet spell.

Back to business. Rather than going over the events of 2014 I’m going to take a look at the recently issued OFMDFM 2013 Labour Force Survey Report. This gives us an opportunity to take a look at the demographic changes that have occurred since 1990 and also includes information that is more up to date than the 2011 Census. The report in it’s entirety is available here.

2014 was a relatively quiet year demographically.The Euro and Local elections threw up few surprises on a low turnout. 2015 may, perhaps, be more interesting with the May Westminster election and the 2016 Assembly election 12 months hence.

Regarding my analysis of the report below, there are two important notes to be aware of:

  • The definition of “Working age” changed in 2010 to include females between 59 and 64. (everyone else is defined as 16 to 64)
  • Those respondents defining themselves as neither Catholic nor Protestant are excluded from the figures. It is my belief that the majority of those defining themselves as “Other” are, in fact from a Catholic background due to the fact that they are predominantly a younger demographic and therefore more likely to come from a Catholic upbringing which is less likely to define itself as such. It should be noted that Catholics were in a majority at every age below 42 in 2013 according to the 2011 Census.

As regular readers here may be aware, the demographic and electoral trend seems to have stalled somewhat in recent years with the Catholic/ Nationalist vote settling at around the 44% mark while the Unionist percentage continues to decline steadily and is currently around the 50% mark. I am firmly of the view that the potential nationalist electorate is under-represented across the North. I believe that this is due to a number of factors:

  • Political apathy by the electorate
  • Under registration of voters
  • Poor candidate selection and lack of application in what are viewed as “Unionist” areas by Nationalist parties
  • Lack of strategic vision. eg: Economic, Social, Political.
  • Fragmentation of the vote due to a refusal on the part of the electorate to be defined as “one” or”t’other”. (A good thing in my view)

Here are some figure from the report:

NI 2013 Labour Rpt1


I think the figures are pretty stark here. Between 1992 and 2013:

  • Protestant working age economic participation declined by 4% while Catholic participation rose by 5%. A 9% swing. That is pretty dramatic in a 21 year period. Is it down to fair employment legislation or, perhaps, an ageing protestant workforce?
  • Protestant unemployment rates declined from 9% to 6%. Great news. Catholic Unemployment rates declined from 18% to 9%. Halved. Of course the real story is that the gap was so large in the first place and is narrowing so quickly.

From the Report “Between 1990 and 2013, the proportion of the population aged 16 and over who reported
as Protestant decreased by eight percentage points from 56% to 48%, while the proportion
who reported as Catholic increased by three percentage points from 38% to 41%. Over
this period, the proportion of the population reported as ‘other/non-determined’ has almost
doubled (from 6% to 11%)”

NI Labour Report 2013 2From the report, between 1990 and 2013 the number of Protestants increased by 37,000, or 6%, to 680,000, while the number of Catholics increased by 148,000, or 34%, to 588,000 over the same period. The number of people aged 16 and over classified as ‘other/non-determined’ has more than doubled from 63,000 to 161,000 over this period.
By way of providing context to the figures obtained in the LFS sample, according to the
2011 Census there were 618,000 Protestants aged 16 and over in Northern Ireland,
compared to 567,000 Catholics, and 247,000 who would be considered ‘other/non determined’.
Thus, in 2011, 43% of those aged 16 and over were Protestant, 40% were
Catholic and 17% were ‘other/non-determined’.

Interesting? Perhaps we should look at the age profiles next?

Ni Labour Report 2013 3


Again, from the report: There were 166,000 Protestants aged 60 and over in 1990 and this had increased to 213,000 by 2013. The number of Catholics in this age group increased from 76,000 to 117,000 over the same period. The 11,000 aged 60 and over classified as ‘other/nondetermined’ in 1990 had more than doubled to 28,000 by 2013.

To provide context to the figures obtained in the LFS sample, Census figures from 2011
show that among those aged 60 and over, 55% (198,000) were Protestant, 33% (118,000) were Catholic, and 12% (42,000) would be considered ‘other/non-determined’.

And so what of the future?

Lets take a look at the 16 to 24 age cohort:

NI Labour report 2013 4In Summary: Between 1990 and 2013, the number of Protestants in this age group has decreased by 25,000 (22%) to 91,000. The number of Catholics has also decreased over this period, albeit to a lesser extent, from 105,000 to 99,000 (6%). These decreases have been somewhat offset by an increase among those classified as ‘other/non-determined’; from16,000 in 1990 to 28,000 in 2013.
According to the 2011 Census, 36% of those aged 16 to 24 were Protestant (82,000), 44%were Catholic (100,000) and 20% were ‘other/non-determined’ (45,000)

I hope my fellow number crunchers have something to get their teeth into there. I certainly found it fascinating.

In the release of state papers over the last few days it was noted that in 1986, Maggie Thatcher was informed that nationalists in Ireland had a strategy of waiting, that time was on their side. There is undoubtedly a truth in that.

Athbhliain faoi mhaise dhuit!




A Licence to Spin

Guest post by Sammy McNally

Long before the BBC was ever even dreamt of, Orangemen have been marching – marching both where they are welcome and marching where they are not welcome.  The challenge for the BBC is to reflect the pomp and ceremony of those parades which are welcomed and to report on the controversies surrounding those parades which are not.

Orange March girlsAnyone viewing The Twelfth (BBC NI’s longest running outside broadcast programme ) which includes coverage from a number of locations in Northern Ireland of the marches on the public holiday of the 12th July, might reasonably, but incorrectly conclude, that there was little or no controversy  associated with the parades featured therein.

In 2012, The Twelfth programme, was the subject of a complaint that the BBC had not complied with its own guidelines on impartiality in its coverage of the Belfast parade.

 (Covered here by BangorDub )

The BBC Trust rejected the complainant’s contention that the Belfast parade was ‘very controversial’ (which in recent years is often followed by days of rioting) – a category with specific editorial requirements.  (I think it safe to conclude none of the Trustees lived near the route of the Belfast parade).

The Trust also rather conveniently suggested that the Programme was part of a  linked ‘series’ even though  the programmes that is was ‘linked’ to were News programmes and suggested that any controversy was therefore covered by the News.  And the Trust also concluded that the “programme did contain some references which acknowledged the controversial nature of parades in general and these were sufficient in the context of a programme that has such clearly defined ambitions and where the audience would have a pre-existing understanding of the underlying issues.”

In 2013 The Twelfth programme was again the subject of a complaint on the grounds that there was even less balance in the programme than the previous year. One can imagine that during the course of this complaint this might have been a cause for some concern for BBC (NI) as they would potentially have had to publically revise the format of a programme very popular with the Unionist community  - at what continues to be a very sensitive time in the parading debate.

But BBC NI, need not have worried, in an extraordinary piece of logic the BBC Trust ruled that ‘The Committee agreed that the question for it was whether what BBC NI had done in 2013 was sufficient to achieve due impartiality according to the Guidelines. It noted that there are many ways to achieve due impartiality under the Guidelines. The Committee did not think it was necessary for the BBC to have gone about achieving due impartiality on this occasion in the same manner as it had done in the year before“.

So what was ‘sufficient’ in 2012 was not actually ‘necessary’ in 2013. An absolute gem from the Trust.

(Ruling Here, Published December 2014


What is perhaps most concerning about this piece of contorted logic, is that it appears to avoid  the need to have any balance at all in a programme which is a TV celebration of a cultural event which is (very) controversial, often leads to serious public disorder and has damaging consequences for community relations. Orange OrderIn practical terms, as far the BBC Trust is concerned, the BBC, can bypass the need for balance by simply advancing the self-serving claim that such a promotional style of programme can be fairly viewed as part of series which includes News programmes.  


By this logic the more controversial a topic then the greater will be the News coverage and the more the programme will comply with the guidelines.  It is hard to believe that whoever drew up the BBC guidelines could have guessed that ‘linkage’ would be so (mis)used.  

The BBC has helped build a (well-earned) reputation for impartiality by exploring the controversial aspects of Northern Ireland politics even during the height of the troubles but that reputation must surely be at risk – at least among the Nationalist community – by continuing to broadcast a programme  - about an event, which is not only overtly political but has sectarian and paramilitary trappings – in such an unashamedly promotional way.

It is inconceivable to imagine a programme being broadcast in Britain which covers an event with such potential for public disorder and which is so offensive in sectarian (or racial terms) to a large section (44%) of the population? But this is of course, Northern Ireland, where things are different and it may be that the BBC Trust is mindful of the current political situation and wishes to avoid making any ruling which unsettles Unionist political opinion further.  And that is perhaps Orange Bonfire nightunderstandable – but that is not however the role that  the BBC Trust was set up to perform nor is it the role that licence fee payers impacted upon by the parade or those who belong to the broader Nationalist community can reasonably expect the BBC Trust to perform.  

….but whatever spin the BBC Trust wishes to put on it – this is a programme which has evolved in its current format, when Nationalists in Northern Ireland were treated as, and seen as, second class citizens – and is at a minimum, badly in need of a serious (impartial) make-over – and is arguably way, way, past it’s sell by date.  

Two Minutes, to Think

This time last year I wrote here of my thoughts regarding remembering the dead and poppies. It is a difficult subject to discuss due to the essentially personal act of remembering the dead.

I was in work today and a two minute silence was observed at 11am. It was not optional.

I abided by the silence out of respect for my colleagues although I spent the two minutes thinking what may have been regarded as rebellious thoughts had they read my mind.

There is a conflicting narrative as to what the whole remembrance poppy month is about. On the one hand it is about the 11th hour of the 11th day. In other words, the British Army dead of world war 1. On the other hand it is about commemorating the British Army dead of all conflicts before and since, including our local one.

If it is the former, then there is some justification for official Irish Government participation in commemorative events. If it is the latter, there is none.

If I may elaborate a little, many Irish men joined up at that time for honest reasons believing the assurances they were given at the time. The Ulster Volunteers went to war believing they were demonstrating their loyalty to their “King, God and Ulster” and ensuring the defeat of the home rule movement. Meanwhile, John Brutons hero, Redmond, was encouraging many thousands to their slaughter under the promise of, guess what, eventual Home Rule.

They were all victims. My question is of whom?

The latter narrative is that wearing a poppy commemorates all British Military personnel. My thoughts on that would extend to many pages and my style of writing is to be brief.

Members of my own family lie in a graveyard at Bansha in Tipperary, victims of British Military activities in the 1920s, while Mrs Bangordubs Father lies in an Enniskillen graveyard in close proximity to Senator Gordon Wilson and his daughter Marie, a victim of people pursuing in the same wrongheaded and appalling way, the same principles my own relatives were murdered for.

My two minutes was spent thinking about the many victims, military and civilian, of the many conflicts pursued by British Military imperialism, and others, over many years.

I regard the British military dead over many centuries as victims, not of who they found themselves shooting at, but of who they were shooting on behalf of. The Poppy extravaganza, for that is what it now is, may be seen as an exercise in drawing the public gaze away from those who gave the orders, the men in grey suits with no medals on their chests.

It is right and proper to remember those who died in battle fighting for what they believed in. Not just some of them, all of them, including those who died fighting for Irish freedom with the backing of an elected majority.

Commemoration? Victims? Causes?

Let us remember all of them, not some.

Philately Will Get You Anywhere!

A guest Post by Fitzjameshorse

A few days ago I was shocked to discover that dedicated philatalist Mr FJH had been out early purchasing some stamps featuring a former British prime minister, here is his response:

There was a “golden age” of the Postcard. Roughly 1900 to 1930. Postcards were effectively the Twitter of the Early Twentieth Century. I daresay most postcards that I have seen at Collectors Fairs have less than 140 characters in the text.
The thing about reading messages is that it can all seem a bit voyeuristic. But it seems that there were lots of spinster ladies who wrote postcards to each other of the “shall we meet for tea tomorrow?” type. Oddly a lot of postcards I have seen have been written to Royal Irish Contstabulary members to each other.
But this “golden age” of postcards coincides with major historic events. The Home Rule Crisis and the First World War. Indeed there are a lot of propaganda postcards featuring John Redmond and Edward Carson. And you may have seen some originals or copies in source material for GCSE and Leaving Cert courses.

In fact Propaganda Postcards made a re-appearance in the 1970s and 1980s. Most Belfast and Derry based republicans will have received Christmas mail, locally delivered with money going to Green Cross or whatever. A word of caution that some alleged “Provo” mail is actually produced philatelically for the American market. Likewise…most Sinn Féin or loyalist souvenir shops have postcards featuring hunger strikers or murals. “Official” prices tend to be inflated as American buyers seem to think they are much more rare than they actually are and indeed Belfast mural postcards are now on sale in mainstream souvenir shops in Belfast.

There was one fantastic bookshop…a lefty haven in Winetavern Street, Belfast in the 1980s. It even had a sign on the door “we reserve the right to refuse admission to people in uniform” and allegedly had a designated watcher from RUC Special Branch. It was not overtly “republican” (at least thats my recollection) but it had a lot of stuff about Central America, South Africa and general lefty stuff. “Leeds Postcards” published fantastic cards which were anti-conservative. I have a lot of them and thats the funny thing….I buy a postcard in the 1980s, little thinking that it might come in handy in 2014.

There is a lot of fun to be had in poking fun. For example in early 1990s I used British stamps of Royal Wedding (Lady Dis) to produce my own Royal Divorce souvenir. It should not have made its may to me postmarked on the day of John Majors announcement because I had vandalised…oops I mean a friend vandalised the stamps by using scissors to seperate Charlie and Di.
I was lucky to get that one.
Some time later I celebrated another wedding…Princess Horsewoman and some Navy Officer….it was low key in a Scottish church …I used stamps from her first marriage to the Horsey Man.
On that occasion Luck was definitely on my side. It went thru the sorting office in the usual way but was spotted and given a very clear dated postmark. Somebody inside the Post Office saw the funny side. Didnt Michael Collins work for the British Post Office?
I digress.
On occasions, there is an opportunity to create just a little mischief.
But earlier this month, the British Post Office issued a set of stamps to commemorate British Prime Ministers. …including Margaret Thatcher.
Some suitable postcards from the 1980s, Tnatcher stamps and a little creative text and we can have some fun See these two examples. “Greetings from Northern Ireland” and “Gotcha” (Belgrano) both safely delivered. There are other versions which are far too tasteless to be published here.
Of course there is an opportunity to use the Harold Wilson stamp. Didnt he make that “spongers” speech.

Of course …it is all very silly. But my intention is that these postcards are passed thru my family.

Sometimes, it’s what you don’t say

Good evening,

This particular post is on it’s fourth rewrite. I’m trying to get my head around Mike “TV” Nesbitt and his Unionist unity conversion on the road to Dungannon.

Back in 2013 he had this to say on the subject (and please note the date on the article),

“I can’t imagine any circumstances where it would be good for the Ulster Unionist Party, good for the pro-union people of Northern Ireland or good for politics to Lemmmingshave an electoral pact

Last week he had this to say,

“That only makes more sense if you’re putting the UUP first and I made it clear that this is about the Union, this is about putting Unionism first, this is about the good of Northern Ireland.  Not that long ago three of them were in Unionist hands, today one is because the DUP lost East Belfast last time, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that on May 8th there will be no Unionist representing Belfast. So, it is a pro-Union deal to say we could see our way to supporting you to hold on in North Belfast and keep Sinn Fein out, if you’ll support us trying to get Sinn Fein out in Fermanagh”

So, It’s all about the “union” then? Ok. Mike wants to form an electoral pact with the DUP for the 2015  Westminster elections all of a sudden in two specific constituencies, North Belfast and Fermanagh, South Tyrone.

Has anyone else noticed that South Belfast was NOT mentioned last week?

I certainly did. I was most amused by that little sin of ommission. I wonder has Mike now given up on that particular “target” or perhaps he cannot see it’s value as a bargaining chip regarding his begging bowl approach to the DUP, not to mention his abandonment of egalitarian principles in favour of a return to Orange supremacist rule.

Let’s have a brief  look at the most marginal westminster parliamentary constituencies in terms of the electoral facts, at least according to the ever consistent Mike.

North Belfast:

Westm North Belfast

The facts here are well documented. The only game in town is the competition between Nigel Dodds and Gerry Kelly. I was in attendance at Gerry’s selection announcement recently (as an observer) and I can assure you that Sinn Fein are confident here. Very confident. Of course if the UUP were to withdraw it should more or less guarantee Nigel the seat but would it?

I’m not so sure. 12.3% of the nationalist vote went to the SDLP at the last election and Gerry only needs half of that to get elected (6%). That is precisely the same as the intra nationalst swing that happened in Fermanagh when the Unionist block last attempted a “unity” candidate. I’ll be blogging in more detail in due course on this one.

Fermanagh South Tyrone

Westm Fermanagh

This is Mikes real target, the tightest win, by four votes, at the last election. That is despite nationalism not having any pacts or agreements and thus a split vote. Given the demographic trends and the reaction of the nationalist electorate to the last attempt at a unity candidate I would be of the opinion that unionism should bring it on. It will be a nail biting count night however.

The fact that the UUP has reverted to type and considers Unionist principles should take precedence over any others reveals the true nature of any further pronouncements regarding a “share future” agenda as does the DUP veto over any integrated education representation at Stormont yesterday.

Mikes UUP agenda is simple, it’s called the “King Canute was right all along” strategy.


The Queens University – semantics, sectarianism or substance?

(this article was also published on Slugger O’Toole)

As many of you may be aware, the Sinn Féin students at Queens University in Belfast have succeeded in gaining sufficient votes to trigger a “united Ireland Poll” among the student body. This matter seems to have energised parts of the mainstream media to an inordinate degree, particularly the Belfast Telegraph. Personally I am all for for radical student politics, there is a long, proud tradition of rebellious students being at the forefront of political change and anger at the status quo.
Give me that, rather than the Bullingdon club crowd currently bumbling their way through what is the the current incarnation of British party political ineptitude.
The election in Queens required a 600 vote mandate to go ahead, which, having been gained, now requires a vote of at least 10% of the student body for the result to stand. That means that of a 24,000 student body, at least 2.400 must vote. Voting is available online and a 50% plus 1 majority is sufficient to win.
There is a clear majority of nationalist background students attending Queens. On paper, the vote should be a shoo in. Is this about polarising views, dividing the student body, semantics, sectarianism or substance? What is the purpose?
I met today with Sean Fearon today, who is head of the SF branch in Queens and asked him those very questions.
The most obvious question for me was what the whole thing was designed to achieve. His response was that it was part of an overall movement to create momentum and debate towards an island wide vote in much the same way that the Scottish independence campaign grew organically at a grassroots level.
I asked him was he receiving advice, instructions or help at any level from his party.
He was adamant that he was receiving no material assistance from the party at all. I’ll let readers make up their own minds as to the unsaid part.
We moved onto the dynamics of the campaign. I made the point that the Scottish campaign ultimately revolved around personal economics which impact, for the most part, on the “senior” electoral demographic. Students, on the other hand, tend to be a little more idealistic. Ahem.
I wanted to know if there was a strategic economic plan, preferably backed up by independent respected economic opinion. Sean responded by referring to Dr Conor Patterson and Michael Burke who both spoke at a recent debate on the subject but I was unconvinced by his grasp of the importance of the subject.
With the vote taking place on the 28th of October, I asked what the campaign would involve.
Apparently there will be debates with the other student party groups within the university.
This may be a major problem.
The Unionist party organisations in the student body are currently trying to launch a counter referendum. The SDLP organisation in Queens views the referendum as “divisive and sectarian”.
I put that point to Sean.
“Is this not a polarising and divisive strategy?”
His answer was interesting and I’ll sum it up below if I may:
We are asking a question
We are happy to debate and discuss
We are happy for it to go to a vote
What, in the above, are others afraid of and why would they try to prevent any of it happening?

Better Together!

Good evening all,

I’ve just returned from a brief holiday in Italy. Sometimes geographical and cultural distance provides a degree of perspective, regarding matters at home, and we may return refreshed, invigorated, energised and ready to look at things anew, as it were.IMAG0001022

I’ve had a wonderful time away. It was instructive in many ways. The Italians are a very “laid back” race in general. Trying to source a timetable for the various ferries, trains and buses involved was simply impossible. It was all sorted on the spot, at the time, in person.

I loved that.

In the same way that the new Guinness advertisement strikes me as the first really good one in a long time and genuinely makes me proud to be a Dub, the Italians are quietly proud of their culture, heritage and hospitality, but with a degree of humility.

There is no sense of hubris, superiority, supremacism or flag waving nonsense. Just quiet confidence in themselves.

I arrived back late last night and have been catching up on events here. We all know what MacMillan had to say regarding “Events”. I had more of a sense of the Churchillian “Dreary steeples”.

The, simply clueless, Theresa Villiers is doing something or other regarding parades, I’m not sure what. Slugger has appointed the “energetic” David (Fianna Fail) McCann as a “Deputy Editor”, God help us and my old mate Barton Creeth thinks it’s great setting up a food bank in South Belfast. Barton. We have memories of such things in Ireland, long memories. Food banks, though well intentioned, are an indictment of where we are in 2014.

While in Italy at a particularly beautiful setting over a few, post dinner, bottles of wine, we, Mrs Bangordub and myself, found ourselves in conversation with a lovely couple from Cheshire. We found common ground on many topics over a few hours.

Particularly when the Scottish Independence vote came up during the course of our chatter. They were of the opinion that we were “better together”. I, naturally, agreed.

I’m not sure they were expecting my perspective on the subject however. It never occurred to them, I suspect, that I was looking at things as an Irishman.




Game Changer

I’ve been quiet recently on the blogging front over the past few weeks but I have some interesting stuff coming up regarding the forthcoming Westminster elections. Here are some of the sites and articles I’ve been reading recently that may be of interest.

As we absorb the lessons of the Scottish referendum result and reflect upon the implications for this part of the world, as our local politicians settle into their traditional tribal responses, as we wonder what will happen next, I am coming to the conclusion that this is a game changer.

Already, within 48 hours of the result, a new movement is taking shape. It’s called the “45”. Phil McGiolla Bháin explains it here.

There is an fascinating interactive map here from the Guardian on national identity and who identifies themselves as British or otherwise.. I have a feeling the Belfast Telegraph wasn’t consulted on these results as the Norn Iron identity seems to have shrunk somewhat. Ahem.

Meanwhile in Co Fermanagh, there is a fascinating article on schools and demographic change over on the Detail website. Well worth a read!



Scotland the Brave?

On the 18th of September Scotland will vote for full independence from the UK. The result may have seismic repercussions in this part of the World, The Orange Order have already said they will withdraw from Scotland if a yes vote is passed. BraveheartTheir Scottish “Grand Master” came out with this beauty: “We are primarily a Christian and charitable fraternal organisation, we rarely step into the political arena.”

Without doubt unionism in the north east of Ireland will have a lot of soul searching and re-evaluation to do in the event of a Yes vote.

The never ending series of Belfast Telegraph polls telling us we are all “Northern Irish” now, may have to be revisited. The Scottish act of union 407 years ago allied with 407 years of pro union propaganda has come down to a 3% swing needed in the vote over the last two weeks. That is a narrowing of the gap from a required 7% swing in mid August and a 10% swing a month earlier. The implications for a similar vote here, particularly given the low registration and voting habits of the CNR community are intriguing.

The “Naw” campaign has been about scaremongering, economic fear and exploiting the uncertainty that independence will bring. The reality is that not one of the countries that has gained its independence, ever, has changed its mind. Not one.

“Yes” can win this. Momentum is everything in politics. My call is that they will do it, just. It is a decision for the Scottish people which is why I have made few comments on this so far. I wish them well whatever they choose but I will watch with interest the reaction of Ulster Unionists to the results.

I’ll leave you with the words and music of a Scottish Band and a poll for your thoughts.



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