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Discrimination – some new figures to analyse July 15, 2019

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, LGBT, Travellers.
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Discrimination is alive and kicking in Ireland. Two weeks ago, the Central Statistics Office published the results of a survey it conducted between January and March this year (web version here, 22-page PDF here). People were asked if they had experienced discrimination in the previous two years. Nearly a fifth of those surveyed said they had.

There is lots in the report to chew on, but I will look at two topics.


That Higgins acceptance speech and Casey October 28, 2018

Posted by Tomboktu in Class, Community, Equality, Inequality.

The 20 percent vote for Peter Casey has been a shock for many. I saw plenty of comments on twitter this evening which noted that Michael D in his acceptance/victory speech (https://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/rte-news-stories-30004668/10957463/) had a dig at Peter Casey. They point to the following in Higgins’s speech:

Words can hurt; words can heal; words can empower; words can divide.

Some of those making comments have attacked not just Peter Casey, but also the people who voted for Peter Casey. And for some of those people, making those comments that is understandable, and even justified. Today, Eileen Ní Fhloinn asked “Is every fifth person I meet a Traveller hater”? and answered it: “well it certainly feels like it”.

Michael D, of course, is too astute to make an overt attack on Casey’s voters. But that does not mean he had nothing to say about what we need to do to tackle the level of support Casey received. And in those remarks, he showed that he wise enough not to join the attacks on them.

In his speech, he did not focus on the symptoms, but on the causes. Two of them.

One of those causes is the stoking by Casey of fears and hatred. Casey did not create his base of one-fifth of the voters: he harvested it with his use of ‘grenades‘ and that does deserve to be challenged. But removing the trigger, the detonator, will not remove the dangerous cocktail of fears and prejudices that resulted in the 20 percent backing for Casey.

This evening, Higgins identified what we need to do if we are to remove much of the support for Casey and his ilk:

The next seven years will offer opportunities to do things in new ways including everybody, and that requires identifying and facing exclusions and more than just eliminating barriers. It means the exercising of new invitations.

A real republic is a republic of equality, of shared vulnerabilities and of collective capacities. A real republic is one where every person is encouraged and supported to participate fully and where every person and community is treated with dignity and respect. A real republic is one which constantly finds new ways to sustain, empower and strengthen our communities, supporting those who are thinking local and thinking long.

Acting on those words will not deal with those whose racism is ideological, but it will disrupt their ability to harvest support from others who are left behind by our current structures.

That Nobel Prize for Physics Announced Today October 2, 2018

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Gender Issues, Science.

Dr Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo in Canada today became the third woman to win a Nobel Prize in physics since the prize was instituted a century ago. Nice timing, as it comes the day after the story broke about a male physics professor, Alessandro Strumia, claiming that “physics was invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation” and being suspended by CERN, the European nuclear research centre that straddles the French–Swiss border, for his remarks.

Normally, a university with a faculty member who wins a Nobel Prize can expect to bask in a secondary glow from the reflected shine that their high-flying staff member brings, especially if it is not one of the scientific elite universities, but the University of Waterloo is also receiving some less warm scrutiny: you see, Dr Strickland is not a full professor. The commentary on twitter that I have seen is based on the assumption that if a man had done her work, he would be a full professor at this stage of his career. It appears that there is a bit more to the situation this this because Dr Strickland has not applied for a full professorship, but that observation has led to further scrutiny: why not — what is it in UW or its Physics Department that has discouraged such a leading talent from putting herself forward?



Harnessing the response March 30, 2018

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Ethics, Feminism, Gaelic Football, League of Ireland.

[This was originally a response to a comment on IEL’s post  Quite a crowd …….. but the, eh, “gaffer” (i.e. WBS) suggested it be made a post.]

I expect that taking that support [at the gatherings across the Island to express support for the woman who was the victim in the events that led to the trial of Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy, and Rory Harrison] and turning it into practical changes would probably entail the RCC or NWCI or sister organisations organising or coordinating specific actions.

‘Places’ that responses could go next include

  • revisiting trial and prosecution procedures,
  • standards and practices of media providers, including the ‘mainstream’ print and broadcast media and social media,
  • standards and practices of sports organisations,
  • decisions of commercial organisations that sponsor sports organisations,
  • education programmes both in schools and colleges and in other settings,
  • police and medical and social care responses to all forms of gender-based violence,
  • lobbying for political responses to rape and domestic violence and their victims is a range of settings (including, for example, the nature and quantity of support provided to victims of sexual abuse in the asylum system, including where rape or assault occurred outside this jurisdiction),
  • harnessing public support to boycott organisations – commercial, sporting, political, social – that respond inadequately to rape, sexual assault, gender-based violence.

When I was born, the concept of sexual harassment was not a legal concept, but activists lobbied and harried and secured that legal change. That gives me hope to say that there is no reason why that concept could not be expanded, or a new concept introduced (and given legal weight), to prohibit, and to provide effective remedies to, the disgraceful response that occurred on social media, including the comments by the Laois and the Drogheda United players.

I am also reminded that we changed our criminal laws when they proved inadequate to responding to wealth-producing crime to enable the proceeds to be seized, and would be interested to see if the law could be changed to enable sub-criminal sanctions to be imposed in cases of alleged rape, sexual violence or gender-based violence, where the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ standard could not be met but it is sufficiently clear that unacceptable behaviour was committed.

On the other hand, a challenge just at the moment is that the NWCI for the next eight or so weeks has its eye on the referendum. The RCC would be a suitable leadership organisation for a major national programme of work if it wished to take on that role, but its financial resources might make it difficult for it to do a significant volume of work.

ejh in the LRB January 7, 2018

Posted by Tomboktu in Bits and Pieces, Equality, Ethics.

I see ejh, formerly a regular in this parish, has a piece on the LRB blog saying that chess needs “a little more boycotting”: https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2018/01/05/justin-horton/bad-moves/

State pension rates below official poverty line February 2, 2017

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Human Rights, Inequality.
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There was plenty of coverage today of the numbers of people living in poverty, following the publication of the latest official data by the Central Statistics Office. (Coverage here, here, here and here; CSO press release here & full report here.) Some of the reports mentioned the fact that the figures, which are for 2015, show that economic inequality  decreased that year.

Understandably, the comments focused on the specific report that the CSO published today. But a telling detail is revealed if you combine the information in the CSO’s report with the information in a second document, the ‘SW19’ booklet for 2015 (the same year that the CSO report covers) from the Department of Social Protection (PDF, 76 pages here). The SW19 booklet sets out the rates and bands for all social welfare payments.

Comparing the data in the two documents shows that only two social basic welfare payments were enough to give an individual recipient a basic income that was higher than the state’s official measure for being at risk of poverty. (I am counting about 17 types of payment as ‘basic’ though somebody else doing this exercise could argue that more of them should be classified this way.) By ‘basic’, I mean the ‘headline’ rate of payment for an individual in their own right, and not including some standard top-ups (like the fuel, gas or electricity allowances, or increases for adults or children who are dependent on the recipient).

Some numbers:

The threshold — chosen by the government — for defining somebody as being at risk of poverty is 60% of the median equivalised income. I won’t go into what that means here. However, the CSO report shows us in the first row of the first table of data that, in 2015, the annual median equivalised income in Ireland was €20,000 (unusually, a round number). 60% of that is €12,000, which converts to a weekly income of €230.77 — below that, and the State says you are at risk of poverty.

The highest old age pension in 2015 was just short of that poverty line, at €230.30. You were eligible for this — the ‘State Pension (Contributory)’ if you had paid PRSI (of the right type) for an average of 48 weeks each year you worked. If you hadn’t paid stamps, the highest pension you could get was €219.00 (the ‘State Pension (Non-Contributory)’). The maximum Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s Contributory Pension was €193.50. The non-contributory equivalent had a maximum of €188.00

If you were on the dole, the maximum basic individual payment you received was €188.00, for both Jobseeker’s Benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance. The same rate applied to Farm Assist. (There is also a pretend Fish Assist scheme that isn’t actually a separate scheme.)

The maximum Disablement Benefit was €219.00, the maximum Disability Allowance was €188.00

And so on, through page after page in SW19, where almost all payments are below the key value of €230.77.

The exceptions? One is the Carer’s Allowance (if you’re caring for somebody over 66), where the maximum payment is €239 if you’re looking after one person and €358.50 if you’re looking after more than one person. But that means you are doing a full-time job of caring for somebody. And the maximum Guardian’s Payment was €161.00 per orphan, so caring for two orphans would bring you over the poverty line — but that doesn’t count because the Payment is to be used for the orphans.



Ireland in breach of five provisions of the European Social Charter January 25, 2017

Posted by Tomboktu in Collective Bargaining, Council of Europe, Employment Rights, Equality, Women's rights.

Ireland is in breach of five human rights provisions under the European Social Charter, the Council of Europe announced today.

Breaches were found on workers’ rights and on the rights of people with disabilities. The findings were announced by the European Committee of Social Rights, an independent body set up to assess legal compliance with the human rights in the Charter.

Ireland breaches the right of workers to earn their living in an occupation they freely enter in for three reasons:

  • the maximum compensation in discrimination cases (other than gender discrimination) is too low to make good the loss suffered and to be dissuasive;

  • foreign workers can face discrimination in getting employment in the public service;

  • army officers cannot resign their commission early unless they repay part of the cost of their education and training, and the decision to grant early retirement is left to the discretion of the Minister of Defence, which could lead to a period of service which is too long.

Ireland also breaks workers’ rights because it does not guarantee that overtime work must be paid at a higher rate.

Migrant workers’ rights are breached because the fees to obtain work permits are excessive, the Committee ruled.

The Committee also found that the length of time after recruitment during which a worker can be dismissed is too long. Under the Unfair Dismissals Act, workers are protected against dismissal in limited circumstances during their first year with an employer.

People with disabilities are denied access to technical aids, communication, transport, housing as well as to culture and leisure activities, the Charter’s supervisory body found. This breaches the right of people with disabilities to integration and participation in the life of the community under article 15.2 of the Charter.

The European Charter of Social Rights is the counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights. Ireland was previously found to be in breach of the Charter because of the extent of the ban on Garda representative bodies taking part in industrial relations procedures, including pay negotiations and membership of Congress. The Government has announced that it will publish a bill to rectify this breach.

Ireland was found to be in conformity with 11 other provisions that were ruled on today. Among these is an article on the right of men and women to equal opportunities. The Committee deferred decisions on five other provisions because the government had not provided enough information for the Committee to assess the situation.

The situations in 34 countries were examined by the Committee. The Committee in particular expressed its concern on equal opportunities between men and women as well as on the protection against discrimination due to disability and in employment due to sexual orientation.

The full text of the Conclusions 2016 for Ireland are here (PDF, 42 pages): hudoc.esc.coe.int/app/conversion/pdf?library=ESC&id=CR_2016_IRL_ENG&filename=CR_2016_IRL_ENG.pdf

That public sector public sector pay thing, again July 28, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Equality.
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Those public sector workers are creaming it, unlike the private sector workers, right?

The key results of the report suggest that earnings of employees in the study fell during the 2008 to 2010 period with the exception of the bottom quartile (Q1) where earnings remained almost constant. The period 2010 to 2013 was characterised by increases in earnings in both the public and private sectors. In all quartiles in the private sector average earnings in 2013 were higher than in 2008, with the highest earners (Q4) experiencing the largest increase over this time period. This contrasts with the public sector where the highest earners in the public sector actually experienced a fall in average earnings over the 2008 to 2013 period while those with the lowest earnings (Q1) experienced the largest increase in earnings.

Oh. That’s from a new study from the Economics Department of UCC using data on earnings from the Revenue Commissioners.

And then there’s this:

Over the period there has also been a marginal increase in inequality in the sample considered. However, there is divergence between the public and private sector. While the private sector experienced rising inequality over the full period the public sector actually experienced falling inequality, with earnings converging during the 2008 to 2013 period. There was relatively higher growth in earnings in the highest earnings quartile in the private sector. In the public sector a fall in earnings in the highest quartile and increases in earnings in the lowest quartile are evident.

In fairness, it comes with caveats: you had to be in paid employment full time for the full year every year between 2008 and 2013 to be included in the study, and that means thousands of workers are excluded.

Springsteen’s latest stand reminds me… April 12, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Gender Issues.
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Bruce Springsteen was in the news — even on RTÉ — over the weekend because he cancelled a concert in North Carolina in response to that state’s new law banning trans people from going to a public toilet for their true gender. (An aside: did the legislators really think this through? Will the women among them really be comfortable when a trans man with a beard arrives into the women’s toilet at their favourite restaurant, and how will the male legislators feel when a trans woman — but whom they deem is still a man — arrives wearing a dress into the gents’ toilet at the stadium during the ball game, as they have legislated? And, actually, those two questions I just asked are completely fucked up: the real issue is how the trans people in those situations feel. But that clearly mattered for nothing with the legislators in that state.)

Springsteen’s stance prompts a question: What would Springsteen think of Ireland?

Actually, we’re not doing too bad. The core of our law on gender recognition is among the most advanced in the world. There are two caveats to that, but our law genuinely is pretty damn good. Caveat no. 1 is substantial: the core applies if you’re aged 18 or over; caveat no. 2 is pedantic: that core of the law is among the most advanced, albeit we’re not the only country with a law as advanced (but it’s not the Olympics, so tied for first place is perfectly fine!).

That ‘core’ is that you can get official legal recognition of your true gender simply by declaring it on the prescribed forms in the prescribed way, all by your oney-ow self. The key point is what items not in that last sentence: no doctor, no psychologist, no endocrinologist, no psychiatrist (nor priest nor granny) is needed for you to acquire from the State the documents you need to live your life in the gender you identify as your true gender.

It is, however, ‘core’ because it doesn’t apply in any way of you’re under 16, and if you are aged 16 or 17 it applies with hoops and legal loops that remove any realistic prospect of it giving you any rights in practice: firmly no gender recognition for under 16s and pretend gender recognition for 16 & 17 year olds.

And here is a remarkable fact: the young people who are the victims of this perverse regime recognise and welcome the progressive, advanced, leading elements of our country’s law.

But neither are they victims of Stockholm Syndrome, beholden to those who imprison them. Two weeks ago those young trans people published a clear-headed, shocking, and forward-looking report on their situation, experience and identity (PDF, 28 pages, available here).

Clear-headed? Read this from the report:

One individual suggested that the exclusion of young people from the current legislation creates the impression that, as far as the Irish state is concerned, trans children do not exist.

Any group that can recognise the immense strength of a law that victimises them, and articulate both its key strength and its key weakness is wonderfully lucid in its analysis. In fact, they display far more sophistication than some of the legislators who put them in their current awful situation. It is clear from some of the debates in the Seanad that some of the members of our upper house did not understand the basic purpose of the Gender Recognition Act and confused irreversible surgery with an administrative process involving only legal records.

Shocking? Read this:

One trans student was prevented from attending a school trip until they had obtained permission from all other participants.

I will leave that with no further comment.

Forward-looking? I quote a two-sentence paragraph, but for me it is the second sentence that zings:

Amend the Gender Recognition Act 2015 to specifically acknowledge intersex identities following consultation with, and directed by the views of, intersex people as to what system of legal recognition would be preferable. Legislate to protect intersex infants from medically unnecessary surgeries.

Think about that second sentence. Imagine (if it doesn’t apply to you) that you’ve just reached puberty and it is all wrong. Now imagine that 12 years ago (or 14 or 15) somebody decided to do surgery on you to put you into a category that it now transpires was wrong?

And the critiques were not directed only at the hetero majority. My own group — cis, gay males — were justifiably criticised:

One young person stated: “LGBT societies are often cis-male dominated. These guys don’t really understand trans issues….so there is no way they are going to get my non-binary identity.” For many non-binary persons, it is particularly upsetting having to explain and justify themselves in an environment which is meant to be safe and affirming.”

Wonderful, clear-headed thinking. We need more of that.

An Irish “don’t ask, don’t tell”, but not tell what, exactly? July 3, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Freedom of speech, Human Rights, LGBT.

We got a chance in the Seanad yesterday to see some real, unscripted discussion on what a piece of law reform should be about, and thanks are due to Senator Averil Power and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, the junior minister for equality for naming the issues and following through with the implications of what they thought about them.

After a break of 15 months, Senator Ivana Bacik’s bill to amend the notorious section 37 was back in the Seanad, following a decision by the government on Tuesday to accept it, but with amendments. Section 37 — specifically, subsection 1 — is the clause in the Employment Equality Act 1998 that allows church-run schools, hospitals and medical institutions, and other religious institutions to have certain exemptions from the ban on discrimination in order to protect their ethos.

The INTO and the other teacher unions, along with BeLonG To and GLEN, the main gay advocacy organisations, have been lobbying for many years to have it removed. Articles on religion and on education in the Constitution mean they were never going to get their way without a referendum, so the real question has been: how far can the exemptions be diluted?

Bacik’s approach was to add an exception to each of the exemptions in section 37(1). Her exceptions would apply to schools and medical institutions that are funded by the state. It would have the virtue of bringing the vast bulk of schools and hospitals within the scope of her exceptions while having the vice of not changing the fundamental underlying values in the law — the stronger protection for lgb people (and divorcees, cohabitants, and lone parents) would be an exception to the core piece of law.

Procedurally, the debate picked up yesterday from where it left off last year, on amendment no. 4 to the bill, from Senator Katherine Zappone. Under standing orders, when Ó Ríordáin was responding to that discussion, he should have dealt only with that amendment, but he read into the record his intention to bring forward amendments at the next stage of the process, the report stage debate. (Most of these have nothing to do with section 37.) His main amendment, he said, would introduce a three-part test that schools and medical institutions must meet if they want to take action in response to the conduct of an employee that the institution believes damages the ethos of the institution.

Having breached procedure by bring up matters unrelated to the business at hand in his first speech, Ó Ríordáin then unhelpfully respected procedure by not circulating the text of his amendments, but Power knows this subject inside out having been the first to bring in a bill to reform section 37 in the current Oireachtas — defeated when she pushed it to a vote in 2012 — and she tackled Ó Ríordáin on two of the key flaws in his proposal: that although abstract standards that are to apply to the conduct of teachers, doctors, etc., are to be spelt out, the ‘conduct’ is not defined; and that he appeared to be leaving Bacik’s distinction between state-funded and privately funded institutions untouched.

Three-part legal tests containing standards like “proportionate to the conduct” and “rationally and strictly related to the ethos” are the kind of rule that law lecturers and High Court judges get their kicks from, and are paid handsomely to get those kicks, but they’re not much practical use to a lesbian teacher who is wondering if it’s OK to mention in the staff room but not the classroom that she got engaged at the weekend, and who has no idea what the three-part test means — if she even knows it exists — if a student asks about her engagement ring when she’s driving him and two others to the inter-school debating competition.

Power challenged Ó Ríordáin on whether prohibited conduct under his three-part test could include a teacher responding to a student being bullied because he has two mothers with an admonishment to the bullies that all families are entitled to equal respect, or could it include taking part in a pride parade. She told the Seanad about a gay man in the USA who was legally sacked when he announced he was getting married; if we are not clear that this is not conduct a religious hospital or school can prohibit, we will make a mockery of the vote of the people in the marriage referendum.

Power probably did not intend her remark about the American man to be a pointed one, but it had an additional edge for some of those in the chamber. Zappone’s spouse, Dr Ann-Louise Gilligan, was in the public gallery. A decade ago, when she and Zappone took their High Court case to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland, she feared that her job in St Patrick’s College of Education, in Drumcondra, Dublin — which is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin — because of the scope of section 37(1). Both Dr Gilligan’s spouse — Zappone — and lawyer in that case — Bacik — were in the chamber on the other side of the protective glass.

Senator David Norris chipped in with a brief account of a school gardener in Scotland who was sacked from his job when he was seen at a pride parade, and whose dismissal was found to be lawful when he took a legal challenge against it. Power had tabled a detailed amendment to Bacik’s bill to deal with the gaps she sees in it on this and other matters, and when the debate moved to her amendment, she pushed the minister on the point. He was visibly concerned at the events in other countries that Power and Norris reported, and agreed to look at the meaning of ‘conduct’, effectively accepting that it is a flaw to leave unspecified questions like when and where the conduct occurs and what it is. However, he warned that care would be needed in adding amendments to narrow the scope of the conduct a school or clinic can oppose in order to avoid the amendments getting caught up in the Attorney General’s office for so long that the Bill would not be completed before the next general election.

Power was less successful in arguing for the distinction between state-funded and private schools and medical institutions being removed, though she made the strong point that this is not a distinction we see anywhere else in employment law. This distinction is one that Power raised more than once yesterday, and I expect she will press this point with an amendment at report stage.

But it was on a third item that Power drew out some of the more interesting discussion on the underlying issue in this country. A point was made in passing — I can’t remember by whom, and the debate is not yet published so I cannot look it up — that a “genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement” — a term in Bacik’s bill — would obviously allow a school to insist that a religion teacher be of the religion of that school. Power disagreed with that assumption. She didn’t mention it, but she probably has case law on her side. In the 2010 case of McKeever v Knocktemple National School, a Roman Catholic school was found to have discriminated when it withdrew an offer of employment to a teacher who is a member of the Church of Ireland. It does not appear to be have been part of the basis for the ruling, but the Equality Tribunal’s full case report does record that Ms McKeever had told the school she was familiar with and willing to teach the Roman Catholic Alive-O religious programme.

Power said that all primary teachers in Ireland are required to be religion teachers, and therefore allowing the criteria that you must be of the religion of the school to be a religion teacher would amount to a requirement of religious affiliation in order to be a primary teacher of any subject. She also pointed out that at second level, many religion teachers are not simply teachers of religion, but have two subjects of which religion is one.

Power’s challenge to the assumption that a school should be allowed to insist that a religion teacher actually be of that faith appeared to prompt Ó Ríordáin to note that every country in Europe that he has looked at has a section 37(1). The implication that we are not different from the rest of Europe quickly drew the observation that, on the contrary, we are very different because, unlike other countries, the overwhelming majority of our schools are under church control. A section 37(1) in another country has the effect of protecting a minority of schools (those under religious control) and the religious rights of parents. Here, because we have so few schools not under religious patronage, it has the effect of putting the minority at a disadvantage. Bacik, possibly worried where this kind of talk might lead, said that this was a debate for another day.

And so to Tuesday next, when the Seanad will hold its debate on the report stage of Bacik’s bill and discuss and decide on the government’s amendments. The original “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a US policy introduced by Bill Clinton when, for political reasons, he was not able to simply lift the ban on lgb soliders serving in the US Army. The policy paved the way for the ban to be repealed 18 years later under President Obama (although a ban on trans soldiers still applies). We are in a different time and a different jurisdiction, and those two differences pull in opposite directions. Our different time is one in which we can no longer expect a person’s homosexuality to be confined to the private sphere. Six weeks ago, 1,201,607 people voted to change our Constitution to release homosexuality from the confines of the private and allow it into the registry office and the official records of the State on an equal footing with heterosexuality. Our different jurisdiction is that Articles 42 (education) and 44 (religion) of the Constitution prevent the complete removal of any restriction by legislation or regulations.

Furthermore, the lawyers and officials advising Ó Ríordáin do not have any legal precedents that they can look to for guidance on where the balance of rights falls in 2015: section 37(1) has never been invoked in a case by a school, hospital, or employee, and nor has the corresponding EU law been invoked before the Court of Justice. Even if those precedents were available, May 22 changed the context in ways we have yet to understand. On Tuesday, we will learn if the remaining injunctions on teachers, nurses, and doctors to not tell is clear and narrow, or if it is opaquely buried under abstract legalistic three-part tests that will, in years to come, need court cases, and therefore victims going to court, to clarify and limit in light of the new values we have written into our constitution.

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