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Irish Left Archive: Workers Weekly – Workers’ Association Bulletin (British and Irish Communist Organisation), January 1975 November 2, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive.
81 comments

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Here’s a curiosity. An edition of Workers Weekly written soon after the announcement by the Provisional IRA that they were ending their then recent 25 day long ceasefire in 1974/75. WW is convinced that:

…for a few weeks the Catholic community in West Belfast have enjoyed a taste of normal life, largely free from the attentions of the British Army (and entirely free from the attentions of the Protestant assassination squads). All that is likely to change now and the Provos are not going to get any thanks for it.

The elision of Nationalist/Republican and Catholic is intriguing.

Then the reader is treated to a ‘Glimpse of Provo “Politics”….

The Irish Times of Jan 15th provided an interesting glimpse of Provo ‘Politics’ when it reproduced an interview given… ([in the] organ of the British Trotskyist International Marxist Group)…

INTERVIEWER: What kind of withdrawal are you talking about?

LOUGHRAN: Withdrawal of the British way of life from this island. This is Ireland. The British way of life has no place on this island. All things British we are talking about – not just the withdrawal of the British Army which is a necessary first step.

That, for what it’s worth is the political programme of the Provo’s (and you thought the flat-earthers were mad?). What would be left if we lost the British way of life? The black taxis and french letters would have to go for a start, and presumably we would not be able to communicate in English anymore. The Provos would be a joke if they weren’t prepared to fight. With politics like these, had the Provos any alternative but to call off the ceasefire.

Even in the context of the paucity of political analysis offered by PIRA at this point in time – it’s hard to know whether taking one statement in one interview as being representative of PIRA or PSF thinking on this matter is entirely credible, and whether what the writer imagines is synonymous with the ‘British way of life’ is indeed what the spokesman had in mind.

Likewise with a piece that argues that Catholic Ireland is but 200 years old. The point is correct, but is such a dynamic markedly different from other societies during the same period where supposedly ancient and immutable structures validating societal outlooks were put in place.

There’s a short piece which lauds Romania along the lines of ‘the fastest growing economy in Eastern Europe’.

And the Officials also get a lash. According to the WA…

Surely they [the Officials] couldn’t mean the struggle against the British Army. They blame the Provos for the rise of sectarianism, and reprisal killings etc, conveniently forgetting that it was their so-called Civil Rights campaign which cause the violence initially. The OIRA, as they admitted themselves were the driving force and guiding light of the Civil Rights Association. They provoked the violence and the Protestant backlash in 1969 and capitalised on it afterards. They underestimated the determination of the old guard of die-hards who would never have let an opportunity like August 1969 slip by. Both Provos and Officials became quite strong military organisations but seeing the Provos were basicallymore honest adn didn’t have to keep on kidding themselves they were non sectarian they proved more durable, now they too are nearing their end.

To blame the Officials (or indeed the IRA, as was at the time) for the spasm of violence in 1969 was an unusual perspective even in 1975. Nor is it clear what they mean by the ‘so-called CR campaign’.

I’ll leave the last word, literally to the WA. At the foot of the final page we read…

It looks as if the milk is not the only think turning soar [sic] this weather.

The Left Archive: “What Happened on the Twelfth?”, Workers Association, 1975, (British and Irish Communist Organisation). July 20, 2009

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive.
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BICO 12th

A bit of an oddity this, but worth posting up for the month that is in it. Here is the Workers’ Association (or another branch, so to speak, of the British and Irish Communist Organisation) presenting its analysis of religion as an aspect of the conflict in Ireland in order to contextualise the UWC Strike, of which it states… “…the Strike has shown once and for all that there is no need for that kind of behaviour and that the community is sufficiently well organised, determined and united to resist any attempts to push it around; and that it can do that without indulging in a bloodbath, or mindlessly submitting to a Hitler-type ‘leader’..

In a most interesting analysis of religion on the island and in the process of ruminating about the Glorious Revolution it manages to take a side-swipe at both the Provisional IRA (“… [their] activity resembles the temper tantrum of a child that can’t get away with what it wants”) and the Official IRA (which it describes their ‘notion that the Shankill Rd Protestants are going to ‘rediscover’ their Gaelic heritage and join the struggle against ‘British Imperialism’… as ‘fantasy’).

What is very striking is the sense of aversion to a ‘Catholic Ireland’…which it states ‘because [it] had so little conscious political, economic, religious or intellectual history that the Church was able to get such a grip’.

A couple of interesting asides about the ‘new free state’… ‘which came into existence in 1922…[when Britain] drew up a democratic and secular constitution for it… the result was a democratic republic [!] with a powerful Church working to develop among the people a mentality appropriate to the middle ages (even Connolly, who is held up as the very embodiment of progressive socialism, idealised pre-medieval Gaelic Ireland)’. One suspects Eric Hobsbawm might have something to say about that analysis.BICO 12th

My Supper with Brendan… At the Aubane Historical Society… July 2, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Aubane Historical Society, British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish History, Irish Politics, The Further Left, The Left.
41 comments

Many thanks to “An Interested Party” for the following…

While I was in Dublin on the 9th of May (staying with a relative), I decided to attend the Aubane Historical Society’s launch of the “Notes on Eire” book in the Teacher’s Club, out of curiosity. I’d heard about them on websites like Politics.ie and Indymedia-the former Unionists-turned-Nationalists. I was interested and wanted to discover what they were like in person.

I arrived at the Teacher’s Club at about 7.25 and there were several people waiting outside the entrance. As I was going in I was asked was I attending the book launch by one of the people. I replied “Yes”, and she gave me directions to the room. She was a friendly middle-aged woman with curled black hair and glasses and a distinct London accent, who looked like a scatty art teacher. So I went upstairs into theroom and there were seats assembled for a meeting. There were several otherpeople there, mostly men and all middle-aged.

Rather ironically, there was a copy of the Irish Times at the side of the room – publication the AHS has often strongly criticised. Two of the men there were discussing the IT’s obituary of the veteran B&ICO/AHS member Pat Murphy, who had passed away a few weeks ago. *

There was a guy on the right side of the room, running a table full of Athol Books magazines, -“Irish Political Review”,”Church and State”,”Irish Foreign Affairs”, “Problems of Capitalism and Socialism”, and “Labour and Trade Union Review”.

Numerous books and pamphlets were also there-the AHS’ famous book on the Coolacrease shootings, along with Angela Clifford’s pamphlets on Haughey’s role in the Arms Trial, Bowen’s “Notes on Eire”,and Desmond Fennell’s new book. Out of interest I bought a copy of the IPR from the man at the stall. After a while, more people started coming in, who all seemed to know each other.
I recognised veteran trade unionist Manus O’Riordan. After a while, there were about fifteen people in the room, including a priest, a man who looked like film critic Harry Knowles and a businessman who vaguely resembled Bruce Arnold.

So a few minutes passed, and then the “art teacher” woman (who another man called Angela-and then I recognised her as Angela Clifford, Brendan’s wife) told us Brendan clifford was coming in a few minutes. Two more men entered the room, and one of them assembled some notes, and then began to eat some chocolate ice cream for supper. “Brendan will be speaking in a minute, after he finishes his meal” said Angela to some laughs.

I gazed at the man called Brendan-this was the famous (or infamous,depending on your opinion) man behind the British and Irish Communist Organisation and Aubane Historical Society.

He is a man of average height,in his sixties or seventies, with a shock of grey hair that rises into curls in the middle, and a beard but no moustache (he struck me as resembling an aging Abraham Lincoln). After a few minutes Brendan finished eating and got ready to speak. Despite the previously informal atmosphere the other guests all quietened down and prepared to listen to him speak
(I was reminded of a teacher coming in and beginning a class). So he began to speak about the Elizabeth Bowen book. He has a soft, slightly reedy voice (despite his Cork/Kerry origins,it reminded me a little of Daniel O’Donnell, of all people!).First, he annouced that the other book announced for the launch (The Mansergh File) had been delayed in publication.

Then Clifford began discussing the details of the Bowen book and his research on her in WWII. He went into detail about her life and her WWII intelligence operations, which seem to be a strong interest of his. Clifford insisted that Bowen was not a North Cork writer, and that he had never met anyone from North Cork who regarded her an a Cork writer.
He turned out to be a rather rambling and slightly tedious speaker, as he kept wandering off the subject (once he digressed to discuss Maurice Hankey, the British politician).

However,when he mentioned Martin Mansergh and his father Nicholas, a note of genuine anger entered his voice. He stated that Mansergh wanted to “destroy us in the Aubane Historical Society” through his critical articles in the Irish Times. This made me slightly uncomfortable, as I got a feeling of “Don’t cross this man. Don’t make him angry” off him then.

After a while, he announced Jack Lane had found some new information about Bowen from his researches in London, and handed the platform over to him.

Jack Lane is a jovial Corkman with a moustache who somewhat resembles the late actor Joe Lynch.He was quite friendly and a far better public speaker than Clifford-a good, educated raconteur with a sense of humour.

He focused on the WWII activities of both Bowen and John Betjetman. I noticed that none of the speakers ever referred to Bowen as an “Irish” or “Anglo-Irish writer”-she was always the “English writer”.

Lane stated that the parts British government wanted to do several things to interfere with Irish neutrality-one of them was to set up a group of pro-British Irish businessmen in the Free State to further the UK’s interests.

Other things Lane discussed included putting UK propaganda messages in Irish products such as people’s laxatives (cue laughter) or plans to “interfere” with the supply of cinema films. I raised my hand to ask a question but Lane motioned me to wait until he had finished speaking. When he had finished, I asked if he meant the film thing was putting “subliminal messages”
or something similar in the films, but he said no, it was restricting films to frustrate the Irish entertainment industry. So the speech went on for a bit more, and Jack mentioned Manus was researching something on WWII, and also a red-haired woman called Eileen with a Cork accent began discussing “the Bell” magazine, saying it may have recieved paper supplies from the Irish government during the war. I got the feeling “The Bell” might be the next AHS subject.

I suppose I could have raised my hand and asked an awkard question like “Is it true you published material in the 1970s saying the 1920s IRA were sectarian?” or “Why did you support Likud in the 70s and Hamas today?” but I’ve always been a little shy about public speaking. And besides, the whole group seemed very “cliquey”-everyone seemed to recognise each
other. I was the youngest person there-the others were all in their 50s or older.

I did think about staying for the Fennell talk, but it was getting dark and I didn’t like the idea of walking through Dublin late at night. So after a while, there was a short break after Lane had finished his talk, and while they waited for Fennell, I left. I walked
out of the Teachers’ Club (there was a room full of Asian people and their kids that I walked past) and
went back to my relative’s flat.

She and her friend were having a chat when I got back, and I mentioned I’d gone to “a history discussion” on WWII. They were interested in it, and they asked who gave it.

“The Aubane Historical Society, from Millstreet” I replied.

“What’s a society from Millstreet doing lecturing in Dublin?” asked her friend, puzzled. Then I told them who was there. They’d never heard of most of the people there, but they did wonder what Manus O’Riordan the Communist was doing working with Desmond Fennell the Catholic conservative.

In the end, I didn’t really know what to make of the talk, or the people who gave it.
The Aubane Historical Society seem like a group of people genuinely interested in Irish history, but with some strange and contentious opinions. They also seemed like a very introspective group – felt like I’d walked in on a group of very close friends where I didn’t know anyone.

I’ll let my relative’s comments be the last word:

“I don’t know about these “Aubane” people, they sound like very strange folk indeed!”

The Irish Left Archive: Workers Weekly, Workers Association, British and Irish Communist Organisation, January 1975 March 30, 2009

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive.
33 comments

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Here is Workers Weekly, a publication of the Workers Association, also of the British and Irish Communist Organisation. This dates from January 1975. As with the previous example in the Archive it is a four page typewritten production. Pedants will note that there is no consistency with the previous masthead.

This edition is exercised about the then recent Provisional IRA ceasefire and argued that:

“The Provisional IRA is now closer to defeat than at any time since they began the war against the people of Northern Ireland.”

The document is explicit in its political analysis:

Having abandoned violence at least temporarily – the Provos will be forced to attempt to pursued their objectives by political means. But the basic objective of the Provos – Irish unity – is incapable of being pursued by political mans. The realisation of Irish unity would not advance the objective material interests of any significant section of Ulster society. The only case for Irish unity that can be made is a case based on myths and legends and myths and legends will not attract many voters…[the Provisional IRA] possess neither the ability nor the guts to face reality and to participate in realistic politics in Northern Ireland. They have nothing to contribute to the working out of a new constitution for the Government of Northern Ireland as a province of the United Kingdom.

And then in a rather dubious piece of political forecasting it continues:

The working out of such a constitution will be the central issue in Ulster politics in the immediate period ahead and any political group which has nothing to contribute to this debate will quickly become irrelevant. Clearly the Provo’s have no future in Ulster politics.

Elsewhere it critiques, or rather criticises Peoples Democracy. There’s a unique take on internment and then a further critique of the SDLP and a poor piece of political prophecy which argues that:

…for Paddy Devlin [of the SDLP] to talk about two ‘traditions’ being given equal expression in the Northern Ireland state is a logical and political absurdity. They stand in totally mutually contradiction and they are not resolved by some sort of artificial creation which purports to allow the expression of both. In such a situation either one or the other will be expressed, not both.

And finally, turn to Page 4 for an attack on the ITGWU.

The Irish Left Archive: “The International Socialists and the Russian Revolution”, published by the British and Irish Communist Organisation, 1975 January 12, 2009

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive.
26 comments

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I’m very grateful to Ken MacLeod for scanning (all 28 pages!) the following for the Left Archive. The document provides an analysis dating from 1975 by BICO of the International Socialists. As Ken notes:

In the 1970s and 1980s the back room of Collet’s in Gray’s Inn Road, London sold literature from any and every leftist group. I probably came across this pamphlet in 1977. I opened it out of idle curiosity and was hooked. On the train back to Hayes I read it from cover to cover with shocked fascination. Re-reading it thirty-odd years later, the shock has faded but the fascination remains. I think it’s still worth reading.

This pamphlet was, going by the inimitable style, written by Brendan Clifford. The B&ICO is usually identified with the Two Nations theory, and their articles and pamphlets on Communist history and on the problems facing the British Labour movement in the 1970s have been somewhat overlooked. They were always interesting to read, even if you disagreed with them. They sold very well from that back room in Collet’s.

The Irish Left Archive: Workers Weekly,Workers Association, British and Irish Communist Organisation, July 1974 November 24, 2008

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive.
122 comments

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As mentioned a couple of weeks back on this thread, here is Workers Weekly, a publication of the Workers Association, also of the British and Irish Communist Organisation. This dates from July 1974.

I have a few more of these which I will post up in future months, but I think this gives an useful insight into the political position of BICO during the early 1970s. Worth noting their stance as regards the UDA and the SDLP in the aftermath of Sunningdale. Worth noting also the following sentence… ‘Granted that Catholics are not likely to be voting for out and out unionists in the near future, the Loyalists have at least attempt [sic] to get through to the SDLP, if only make it clear to all concerned (including the Catholics) that it is only their inability to get rid of their aspirations that is standing in the way of a peaceful settlement’.

They appear entirely antagonistic to a Council of Ireland and dismissive of internment and its pernicious impact on Nationalists in the North. Or how about the following? “The Civil Rights agitation itself was an attempt to divert attention away from the need for the Catholic community to drop its anti-partitionism and integrate fully into society in Northern Ireland. Instead of facing up to the fact that their isolation from society was due to their leaders continually campaigning for destruction of the state, they insisted on blaming the ‘other side’ and attributing their (largely self-imposed) isolation solely to ‘Unionist bigotry’.”

Or what of this attitude to Irish culture? ‘ As socialists, we have always imagined that everyone would be better off under socialism, which would be even more efficiently organized on an even larger scale than capitalism. If however socialism means confinement in a tight little turf-powered economy with everybody speaking a language that is of merely antiquarian interest to the rest of Europe, then we’ll be quite happy to settle for capitalism (and for that matter, ‘imperialism’), until something better comes along.’

I leave it for your consideration.

For a further interesting – if subjective – analysis of BICO this is worth a visit.

Left Archive: “Irish Political Review”, No.1, 1986 September 8, 2008

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Aubane Historical Society, British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive.
42 comments

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An anonymous contributor to the Archive has forwarded the above and written the following. Many thanks.

The “Irish Political Review” began in July 1986, possibly as a successor to the British and Irish Communist Organisation publication “The Irish Communist” which had ceased publication earlier that year. The first issue was largely anonymous except for the crediting of David Alvey as editor.
The main contributors included Brendan and Angela Clifford, Alvey, John Martin, Pat Maloney,Dick Spicer and Tadhg O’Connor.

Regular targets included the IRA (January 1988), Irish Neutrality (November 1986 & September 1989), John Hume (described as a “totalitarian” in the December 1986 issue) Garrett Fitzgerald (February & September 1987) and critics of the Diplock Courts and Section 31 (December 1987).
Although you wouldn’t see it in this issue,the Catholic Church was a regular target as well (March 1988 laid into the Catholic hierarchy, while January 1989 savaged Sister Stanislaus Kennedy).
This constant aggression was rather sometimes arbitrary – I’m still at a loss to know why the poor people of Charleville were also savaged in the October 1986 issue.

There was lots of coverage of the Irish Labour Party, possibly because many of Jim Kemmy’s Democratic Socialist Party (with B&ICO links) were thinking of joining the LP at the time (as the DSP ultimately did). Charles J. Haughey was often praised, especially for his opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The Left Archive: “Socialists Against Nationalism” Campaign Leaflet c.1979/80? Socialist Party of Ireland, British and Irish Communist Organisation, the Limerick Socialist Organisation. July 14, 2008

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive, Limerick Socialist Organisation, Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI).
43 comments

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All the greats – eh? A short document this week only four pages long. Socialists Against Nationalism, a ‘campaign’ group established in the late 1970s/early 1980s by the Socialist Party of Ireland (not, I hasten to add the current SP), the British and Irish Communist Organisation, the Limerick Socialist Organisation and ‘individual socialists’. As far as can be determined this was the precursor of the Democratic Socialist Party, led by Jim Kemmy, which later merged with the Labour Party.

As a campaign how long it lasted and how successful it was is unclear. Although as regards the latter point it is worth reflecting on how many a left (or later liberal or right-wing) Irish political career clearly drew a degree of inspiration from the sort of analysis put forward here, that the only way to working class unity was by eschewing the ‘call for a 32 county Socialist Republic [which] is nothing more than the old nationalism newly dressed in a socialist guise’. Actually that in itself is a remarkable statement from an avowedly left-wing body given the longevity of the socialist Republican approach in Irish politics during the 20th century.

But then again, considering issues of success or failure, some the central ‘demands’ in the leaflet have been fulfilled – look at the list on page 3- although their avowed aim of extirpating ‘nationalism’ has not. But then consider again the image on page 1 which makes a clear visual linkage between the most extreme form of ‘nationalism’ and Irish nationalism. Hard in that context to take entirely seriously their idea that they wanted to ‘organise public debates with socialists and others who still hold the traditional nationalist viewpoint’, or indeed that ‘traditional nationalism’ equated with what appears to be a pogrom. And consider again the viewpoints expressed in the recent past on various historical issues which chime with that sort of viewpoint.

I can find reference to them in Seanad debate here (John A. Murphy giving an interesting analysis) and here.

Any further information on this campaign would be of considerable interest, as would any material from the DSP.

The Left Archive: “On the Resignation of the Cork Branch, from the Irish Communist Organisation”, The Cork Communist Organisation (a split from the ICO) – 1972 October 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Cork Communist Organisation, Irish Communist Organisation, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
174 comments

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An oddity this week from the Archive (and another donation to the Archive from Jim Lane – for which we’re very grateful). This binder1.pdf is a 20 page pamphlet issued by the Cork Communist Organisation in 1972. This was a split from the then sort of kind of Maoist Irish Communist Organisation which went on to become the British and Irish Communist Organisation. Within the pages of this document are detailed the upset of the CC Organisation at the Irish Communist Organisation and various policy positions. It’s remarkable really.

Accusations of ‘bourgeois factions’, worries about secessionist tendencies (in the geographic sense of the term), the ‘Two Nations’ Theory and so on abound. Forensic attention is paid to these, and yet, let’s not fool ourselves. The debates here mirrored or even predated debates in other organisations over the course of the conflict as those on the Left sought to understand and grapple with aspects of Nationalism.

Throughout there is a real sense of upset and hurt on the part of the CCO, perhaps even incomprehension, at the development (or is it deviation) of the ICO. On one level it is surprising how seriously all this was taken. Train journeys across Ireland to discuss the esoterica of party policy. Debates in pubs and meeting rooms. Of course, that is to ignore the time at which this was taking place. 1972, the conflict in the North gaining pace. Perhaps a sense that revolutionary change was possible, even if one was in the presumably tiny ICO. Incidentally, it’s a world away from the politics I know and experienced. What about representation? The actual as distinct from notional working class? Getting down and dirty organising in constituencies? Was that part of the exercise or was it purely a talking shop? I would very much like to know, and to know what happened to the CCO. Any information would be appreciated….

The Left Archive: British and Irish Communist Organisation… The Irish Communist from 1973. August 9, 2007

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive.
98 comments

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As half-promised here is a PDF (6mbs large) of the Irish Communist, the theoretical journal of the British and Irish Communist Organisation. Dating from 1973 TIC was a typewritten journal, 36 pages long. My apologies for the somewhat idiosyncratic scanning and the unusual angles. bico-1973.pdf

In any case the journal contains three articles, one on the “Ulster Liberals, the Protestant Working Class and the Struggle against Home Rule”, one on “The Lenin-Trotsky Controversy on the Trade Unions 1920 – 1921” and “The Rights of Nations and the Duties of Communists”. Intriguingly the same names as we see in the Irish Historical Review appear here. The consistency within BICO and its successors – in terms of those involved – is quite striking.

The emphasis on Leninism is also evident. The quote on the front is “Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement”. As interesting in its own way is the list of periodicals, pamphlets and books issued by BICO on the last two pages. An eclectic mix, to be honest. They range from “On the Democratic Validity of the Norther Ireland State” (a bargain at 5p), “The Two Irish Nations: A reply to M. Farrell”, “Is Wales a Nation?” (I’d like to see that one) and then a worrying section entitled ‘by Stalin’ wherein we can feast upon such ideological delights as “Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR”, “On an Article by Engels” and “On Trotsky”.

In a way the dustiness of the enterprise is underscored by this nostalgic – if that is the right term – rummaging through arguably one of the most benighted strains in Marxism and taking it with any seriousness.

But the real meat is in the articles. I think they give a real taste of the mixture of ideological certainty, almost complete identification with Stalinism (in the most specific sense of the term) and special pleading as regards the advanced status of the Unionist working class on the island and I’d be interested in any comments on same.


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