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West of Ireland community energy organisations say they believe Ireland can also benefit economically and socially from renewables while tackling climate change.

Representatives of the organisations intend to make this case at the Mary Robinson Climate Conference which opens in Ballina on Wednesday, June 5th.

Entitled “A Shared Response to a Shared Responsibility”, the conference will be opened by former president Mary Robinson in Ballina Arts Centre on Wednesday morning.

Representatives of three community organisations based on the west coast engaged in community initiated offshore wind projects will speak on Wednesday evening, along with a leading academic and representatives of an expert co-ordinating group specialising in community renewable hydrogen projects.

This panel involves Dr James Carton of Dublin City University, Colum O’Connell of Valentia Island Energy, Dara (Molloy) Ó Maoildhia of Comharchumann Fuinnimh Oileáin Árainn, Sabine Wandel of Achill Community Futures and Lúgh ó Braonáin of Energy Co-operatives Ireland.

They will outline:

  • The technical context of offshore energy: how would it be generated and what it could be used for;
  • The scale of the sustainability opportunity;
  • How west of Ireland communities can help drive this change and take hold of the social and economic benefits;
  • How, through innovation and new insights, a hitherto marginalised west coast can help define new concepts of social structures;
  • Potential benefits to the Irish State.

“Ireland is blessed with the marine resources to take a leading role in meeting this challenge,” the group states.

“ Some are suggesting that our seas can help decarbonise not just our own energy system, but also much of that of our European neighbours,”they say.

The group believes a "full scale sustainably managed offshore wind sector on the Irish west coast could radically alter the coastal social and economic landscape for the better” and could “shift our society to one where the communities of the west coast can drive a sustainable society into a better future”.

The group will address a 40-minute session in the Ballina Civic Offices (followed by a 20-minute audience discussion) between 5 pm and 6 pm on Wednesday, June 5th.

The full programme for the Mary Robinson Climate Conference 2024 is HERE

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Five trails on two offshore islands are among 62 new walking routes announced by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys.

The five new island routes are on the Aran island of Inis Meáin and Oileán Chléire/Cape Clear island in West Cork.

Also for the first time, National Walks Scheme trails will now be located in counties Monaghan and Wexford. This is part of what Humphreys has billed as “the largest ever expansion of Ireland’s National Walks Scheme with 62 new trails announced across 17 counties.

A phased expansion will see the number of trails on the Walks Scheme increase from 80 to 150 over the next two years, as part of the “Embracing Ireland’s Outdoors” national outdoor recreation strategy.

The Cnoicín Loop on Oileán Chléire and Lúb Dún Fearbhaí on Inis Meáin, Co Galway, along with six “Fastnet trails” in west Cork and the Ardmore cliff walk in Co Waterford, are among the coastal routes included in the expansion.

Over €15 million has been paid to farmers and landholders participating on the scheme since 2017, with an additional €1.4 million spent on materials for the maintenance of trails, Humphreys has said.

“This expansion will see an additional annual investment of over €500,000 to rural areas through the scheme,” she has said.

She announced the expansion on Feb 28 at the Carrigmeal Woods loop trails in Co Laois.

“I want to make Ireland an international destination of choice for walkers and hikers. We have a unique offering in terms of our natural landscape filled with mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and sea,” she said.

“Often these amenities can only be truly appreciated by crossing through fields and land owned by local farmers. The National Walks Scheme is about working in partnership with landowners so we can open up access to local communities and tourists to enjoy these wonderful hidden gems we have all across Ireland,”she said.

“I want to acknowledge and thank the work of all the farmers and landowners involved in the Walks Scheme who provide access to their holdings and who help to maintain the trails to a high standard for the benefit of a huge number of locals and visitors,” she added.

“Without the goodwill of farmers, we would not have access to many of our favourite tracks and trails. It is incumbent on all of us to use these amenities responsibly, respect local landowners and of course – Leave No Trace,” she said.

Her department is now inviting expressions of interest from local development companies (LDCs) for new trails and substantial extensions to existing trails.

“Potential applicants (e.g. trail management committees, community groups, local authorities, and other similar entities) should be advised that expressions of interest must be made through LDCs in respect of trails that are eligible for inclusion in the scheme,” the department says.

The closing date for expressions of interest is October 11th, 2024.

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A community-based initiative hosted on County Galway’s offshore communities has been named winner at the National Age Friendly Awards 2023 held last evening (Thursday) in Clayton Whites Hotel, Co. Wexford.

The ‘Healthy Islands’ project picked up the Age Friendly Active & Healthy Ageing Award in recognition of its efforts to promote health and well-being, to improve communication and enhance knowledge of available services amongst residents of The Aran Islands (Inis Meáin, Inis Mór and Inis Oírr) and Inisbofin.

The project featured free activities and resources for more than 200 participating residents to promote health and wellbeing across all the islands, including pulse and blood pressure checks, healthy cooking demonstrations workshops, a community fun-run, yoga, relationship and sexual health education, citizen information advice, and exercise and fitness tips.

The initiative, which was rolled out in April, was coordinated by Healthy Galway County under Galway Rural Development’s Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme (SICAP) and supported by statutory, community and voluntary organisations, including Galway Rural Development, Galway Sports Partnership, Comharchumann Forbartha Arann Teo Inis Mór, Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin, Inishbofin Development Company CL and Comhar Caomhán Teoranta Inis Oírr.

Commenting on the award win, Councillor Liam Carroll, Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council said, “This wonderful initiative is worthy of the national recognition it has received. It successfully broke through the barriers to services and information that islanders can face due to their remote location. The collaborative approach to delivering the project is a template for future similar projects that seek to ensure everyone can enjoy good physical and mental health, and where wellbeing is valued and supported at every level of society.”

Liam Conneally, Chief Executive of Galway County Council praised the various community and economic development groups on the islands for playing a vital role in the success of the project which, he said, presented a suitable template for similar initiatives in the future.

“Galway County Council is delighted to have supported Healthy islands and congratulates everyone involved in achieving this award success,” he added.

Alan Farrell, Director of Services, Galway County Council, commented, “The local buy-in and commitment of multiple agencies to bringing this project to fruition resulted in island dwellers across the life span being able to access a range of supports, information and services locally and build a better understanding of health and wellbeing initiatives that could be drawn on as needed. Another key benefit was that a range of organisations were able to improve their understanding of older islanders’ needs.”

Dr. Anne Cassidy, Senior Manager of Galway Rural Development’s SICAP team said, “This award win is testament to the high levels of participation amongst residents and the many community, voluntary and statutory organisations across the islands and the wider county. Healthy Islands has had a meaningful impact on the lives of older people and the wider community of the four islands. We look forward to seeing a further building on the relationships established through this project and increasing local access to services in the months and years ahead.”

Mary Cronin of Galway County Older People's Council praised the project’s community-centred focus, adding “Healthy Islands was predominantly aimed at the older population, but it also proved beneficial to other age groups, particularly those looking after a parent or relation, as it has helped them to better cater for the people they are linking in with and sharing the services and information.”

Andrew McBride, Healthy County Galway Coordinator said the project will have positive long-term consequences for islanders and service organisations.

“Due to their small population and geographical isolation, most organisations do not visit the islands resulting in low levels of awareness of services and interaction between providers and islanders,” he explained. “By travelling there, organisations now have a better understanding of these contexts, the needs and how these might be met. Likewise, islanders who face journeys of up to two hours to Galway City to avail of some key services were able to engage with service providers. The new relationships that have been formed will lead to future projects being identified to address the health and wellbeing needs of each individual island as all four islands have different needs and wants.”

Organisations that participated in Healthy Islands included Galway County Council, Croí, Healthy Ireland at Galway Library, Galway Sports Partnership, the Galway Public Participation Network (PPN), Age Friendly Homes, Sexual Health West, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Mental Health Ireland, Chime, Alone, the Irish Wheelchair Association, the HSE Health Promotion and Improvement unit, Jigsaw, Parkrun Ireland, West Be Well, Domestic Violence Response Galway, and the local Public Health Nurse and Gardaí.

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Continuing sustainable communities on Irish islands are at risk due to a critical lack of housing, according to a report published today by Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, the Irish Islands Federation.

The report calls on the Government to establish an island-specific housing task force and action plan.

The report, which is due to be released at 1300 hours today in the Audio-Visual Room in Leinster House, was carried out in conjunction with Dr Conor Cashman and Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan of the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork.

Funded by Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, it sets out the results of research conducted between September and December 2022.

It finds that the islands face “unique challenges within the national housing crisis, and failing to address housing on the offshore islands means that the continuity of sustainable communities on the islands is at risk”, the federation says. T

Key points from the report’s survey include:

  • Full-time residents and communities want to remain living and thriving on the islands, and there is a clear cohort of people wishing to return to, or move to the islands for the first time.
  • Availability and affordability of housing are the most significant issues identified by survey respondents wishing to remain on, or move to, the islands.
  • 79% of renter respondents stated they are likely to move in the next 5 years. Although most want to remain living on the offshore islands, they said the lack of affordable housing to buy, lack of long-term rental accommodation and tenure insecurity make that very challenging.
  • There is very strong support for developing schemes and a range of housing options to enable younger generations and full-time residents to remain on, or move to, the islands.

The report has five recommendations, including establishing an island-specific housing task force and action plan.

It also recommends developing a community-led housing association/approved housing body, and ensuring that the voices of islanders are heard in relation to policy development and implementation, with particular focus on planning and vacant homes.

Máire Uí Mhaoláin, CEO of Comhar na nOileán, says the report “provides clear data highlighting the urgent need to address housing on the islands”.

The report’s publication represents “a key step in addressing these needs and advocating for the needs and wishes of islanders to sustain our communities and way of life on Ireland’s offshore islands”, she says.

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Irish offshore islands are used to having to wait, whether it is for safe piers or electricity decades ago.

However, they are being prioritised for pure fibre links under the national broadband plan.

Three West Cork islands are due to be surveyed, while ten other islands have already been prepared for high-speed connectivity by National Broadband Ireland (NBI).

Up to 500 residents on Cape Clear/Oileán Chléire, Sherkin and Bere islands have been notified that survey works will begin shortly to determine the location for the infrastructure.

This may involve using old telephone poles, as existing infrastructure is being leased by NBI as part of the plan.

“What surprised us is that we are so far up the queue, as we were under the impression that it would be 2028 or 2029 at the earliest,” Kevin MacAnna, manager of Comharchumann Chléire, the Cape Clear island co-op, says.

“We do have mobile broadband, and most of us get good 4G coverage, but for businesses the national broadband connectivity may be more advantageous,”MacAnna says.

Minimum speeds of 500 megabits per second will be offered to islanders under the plan which will be to the same standard as the mainland, NBI says.

It will involve high-capacity radio backhaul link technology, and no undersea cabling, it says.

The so-called “Rolls Royce” of high speed connectivity offered by NBI has been estimated at costing 6,000 euro per household, based on a total cost of over 3 billion euro for the 25-year contract.

Cape Clear currently has a population of 110, based on Census 2022, down from 135 in the last Census, while Bere island’s population has grown to 218 people from 167. Sherkin island is stable over the past five years at around 110 residents

Ten islands have “live” NBI infrastructure to date including Hare Island and Long Island off the coast of Cork; Turbot Island and Inishturk South island off Connemara; Inishlyre and Collanmore off Mayo; as well as the four Donegal islands of Inishfree, Rutland , Eadarinis (Inishcoo) and Eighter.

Surveying works are already complete on seven islands: Dursey Island and Horse Island off the coast of Cork; Valentia Island off the coast of Kerry; Inishbiggle, Acaill Beag and Achill island off the coast of Mayo; as well as Owey Island off the coast of Donegal.

Surveying works are pending for seven more islands, including the three Aran islands and Inishbofin off Galway, Clare island off Mayo, and Arranmore and Tory off Donegal.

NBI chief executive officer Peter Hendrick said that the contractor’s mission is “to ensure that no community is left behind under the National Broadband Plan, no matter how rural or remote their location, and this obviously includes our offshore islands”.

“We are very proud that we will provide connectivity to the islands as part of our work, “he said and confirmed NBI teams would be “on the ground” on Sherkin, Cape Clear and Bere islands in the coming weeks to start engineering surveys to determine locations for equipment.

“Our planners and surveyors will collaborate with the local authority, relevant stakeholders and island residents at every step of the way,” Hendrick pledged.

The National Broadband Plan contract, which was initiated over ten years ago and associated with delays and controversy, including the resignation of communications minister, Denis Naughten, is held by international technology and telecommunications investor Granahan McCourt.

It is contracted to provide broadband infrastructure for the “State Intervention Area”, as in parts of the island where private companies have said they have no plans to invest, and includes 564,000 premises, ranging from homes, farms and businesses to community facilities - and over 1.1 million people.

In September 2023, NBI stated that a total of 50,000 premises had been provided with access to pure fibre broadband to date, marking the milestone at a farm in Co Cork.

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University College Cork researchers have completed a survey of the offshore islands, which concludes that long-term secure, affordable, available housing is essential
to maintain and build resilient, vibrant, and sustainable communities.

The researchers, Dr Conor Cashman and Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan, had previously analysed the housing situation on the West Cork islands for the Islands’ Federation,
Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann. They were asked to extend their survey to the other offshore islands of Donegal, Mayo and Galway.

The results are in “Ireland’s Offshore Islands: Housing Needs Survey”, which makes five key recommendations:

  1. Island-specific action plan with key targets/metrics
  2. Community-led Housing Association/Approved Housing Body,
  3. Advisory/Input role to National Policy Formation on Planning Guidelines,
  4.  Advisory/Input role to National Policy Implementation on Vacant Homes, and
  5. Ongoing Research and Community Engagement.

The researchers say: “The information provided by respondents to this survey show a clear wish by full-time residents to remain on the islands, a desire by those previously living on the islands to return, and a cohort of people wishing to move to the islands for the first time. In all these situations, access to affordable and suitable housing is crucial. Island communities cannot be sustained without a specific housing policy that recognises the particular challenges islands face. The creation of long-term secure, affordable, available housing (whether to buy or to rent), is essential to fulfilling people’s needs as identified in the survey and to maintaining and building resilient, vibrant, and sustainable communities on Ireland’s offshore islands.”

Inishturk Island in County MayoInishturk Island in County Mayo Photo: Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann

Comhdháil Oileán na hEireann says it is imperative that all relevant Departments and County Councils seriously address the housing crisis on offshore islands.

“The future life of the islands depends on proper housing availability. Ring-fencing of funds is vital, housing solutions tailored to individual island’s needs and continued perhaps increased, financial support for renovating and building homes. Comhdháil applauds the depth of research and strength of the recommendations. There will be more discussion on the housing report when it is formally launched, along with possible actions for all the islands. It will be of huge importance to be included in the National Policy Formation on Planning Guidelines as this will greatly impact building on the islands.”

Read also: Housing and Impact of Holiday Homes High on European Small Islands Agenda

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Housing and the impact of holiday homes on islands was a theme of this year’s European Small Islands Federation annual general meeting held on West Cork’s Bere Island.

Energy self-reliance and greener ferries were high on the agenda, according to secretary Rhoda Twombly.

Also discussed were the benefits for the islands in participating in the “30 Islands for 2030” Clean Energy 4 EU islands programme.

How to retain a stable population and ensure young people have a chance to stay or return to island homes was equally high, she said.

“We have too many ‘dark islands’ in the winter”, said Anette Larm Johansson from the Swedish delegation, “where there are hardly any year-round residents, due to the growing number of holiday homes.”

“Housing has now become our number one issue, " Johansson said.

Irish island policy was outlined by Bríd Ní Chonghaile and Aodán Mac An Mhíle, senior officials at the Department of Rural and Community Development, which part-funded the event.

The “Our Living Islands Action Plan 2023-33” places a high importance on “smart, sustainable, island futures,” with a suite of actions to enable people to live and thrive on their islands, they explained.

In a blue economy session, the Cork Education and Training Board presented an innovative island training programme where training is taken to the islands rather than the other way around.

It includes a new modular micro-credentials accreditation scheme, allowing apprenticeship to capture the older generations’ knowledge.

The “Strategic Plan for a Maritime Training Centre” presented by consultant Laura Foley was “equally inspiring, showing how a fair and just transition can be planned through re-skilling and upskilling existing maritime competency, and adapted for the renewable industry through cluster collaboration rather than competition”, Twombly says.

The event was hosted by John Walsh from Bere Island and aided by Aisling Moran (Chair, Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann/Irish Islands Federation), Ivan Matić (Island Movement, Croatia) and Mairtín Ó Méalóid from Cape Clear.

Local historians Ted O’Sullivan and Barry Hanley provided interesting guided tours while the Bere Bakehouse and the Bere island Hotel served the delegates tasty local cuisine.

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A Dutch interior designer who made mats out of washed-up fishing ropes, while quarantined on Connemara’s Turbot island during Covid-19, is a participant in Ireland’s exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale, which opens today (Friday, May 19).

Hanneke Frenkel’s sea mats and sacks were created from her beachcombing on the small island west of Clifden and south of Omey almost three years ago.

An abstraction of Sceilg Mhichíl (Skellig Michael) off the Kerry coast made from Galway sheep’s wool, and results of Mayo’s Clare Island Survey were also selected for the Ireland Pavilion’s theme, “In Search of Hy-Brasil”.

An abstraction of Sceilg Mhichíl (Skellig Michael) off the Kerry coast made from Galway sheep’s woolAn abstraction of Sceilg Mhichíl (Skellig Michael) off the Kerry coast made from Galway sheep’s wool

Five architects - Peter Carroll, Peter Cody, Elizabeth Hatz, Mary Laheen and Joseph Mackey – curated “In Search of Hy-Brasil” for the International Art and Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.

The Irish entry is supported by Culture Ireland in partnership with the Arts Council.

Frenkel has described how she just began making the sea mats by accident, “Here I was on Turbot, I couldn’t go home because of Covid, and I didn’t know what else to do!”.

She and her husband Stefan bought a house on Turbot some years ago from former islander John O’Toole. The tiny island’s main claim to fame had been its sighting by trans-Atlantic aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown before they crash-landed at Derrygimlagh bog in north Connemara on June 15th, 1919.

O’Toole and his family were among 60 islanders relocated to the mainland in 1978, four years after a currach capsize when three island fishermen drowned on their way home from watching the All-Ireland football final on television in Clifden.

The Irish pavilion’s curators said they were responding to the theme “The Laboratory of the Future” which was selected by Lesley Lokko, curator of the 2023 Venice Biennale.

They chose to interpret aspects of Irish offshore islands, also adopting Hy-Brasil as “the mythical Atlantic island that embodies the possibility for the re-imagination of the island of Ireland and its ocean territory”.

The five curators studied the island landscapes of Aran’s Inis Meáin, UNESCO World Heritage site Sceilg Mhicíl (Skellig Michael) and Cliara (Clare Island) through drawing, survey, film, sound, model, mapping, and story.

Their exhibition focuses on renewable energy, ethical food production and biodiversity, “capturing the islands’ sustainable methods of livelihood through drawing, models, film, sound, writing and language,”they state.

Large limestone slabs from Inis Meáin, Sceilg Mhichíl and Cliara and their related ocean floor are on display, along with various works celebrating “the use of local materials in innovative and unorthodox ways”.

These include a hung linen tapestry mapping the “extraordinary complexity and rich topography of Ireland’s maritime zone and beyond”; a sea of interpretive drawings “revealing aspects of unique living conditions on the islands”; a film and soundscape of Inis Meáin; and a graphite rendering of the ancient landmass of Pangaea.

The Irish pavilion will be opened this afternoon (Fri May 19) by Minister of State for Tourism, Culture and Arts Patrick O’Donovan.

Welcoming the Irish entry, Minister for Tourism, Culture and the Arts Catherine Martin recalled that the 2018 Venice Biennale was curated by Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects.

She noted that Emmett Scanlon, Alice Clancy and Laurence Lord are assistants this year to overall curator Lesley Lokko.

“The Laboratory of the Future” is an exhibition of six parts, involving 89 participants, over half of whom are from Africa or the African diaspora, Lokko says.

After its presentation in Venice, “In Search of Hy-Brasil” will tour Ireland in 2024. The curators of the installation will also publish a book of essays and contribute to a film documentary.

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The Aran islands’ “TedFest” has sold out several months before it kicks off on Inis Mór in early March.

Organisers of the celebration of one of Ireland’s best-loved television shows advise people not to travel to Inis Mór unless they have already reserved accommodation.

The festival, initiated in 2007, was inspired by the Channel 4 sitcom, Father Ted, created by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews.

“Everything subject to change without notice nor comeback, whether due to acts of God or straightforward incompetence,” is the mantra for the event from March 2nd to 5th, when Inis Mór becomes “Craggy island” for the weekend.

The Aran islands’ “TedFest” has sold out several months before it kicks off on Inis Mór in early MarchThe Aran islands’ “TedFest” has sold out several months before it kicks off on Inis Mór in early March Photo: Adam Patterson 

The organisers promise the “biggest ever TedFest”, involving “all the ecumenical craic”, with “copious cups of tea and sandwiches, a lot of red tank-tops, nuns on the run, priests on the pull, map-cap costumes and of course a bishop getting a kick up the arse”.

All the ecumenical craic - Tedfest kicks off on Inis Mór in early MarchAll the ecumenical craic - Tedfest kicks off on Inis Mór in early March Photo: Adam Patterson 

Highlights include “the annual Lovely Girls Competition, Blind Date with Eoin McLove (Patrick McDonnell), King of the Sheep, Pat Mustard Lip SyncShowdown, The Craggy Cup, Ted's Got Talent, The Screeching Competition in a very Dark Cave and Matchmaking with Nellie”, they state.

Nuns on the run is a feature of Tedfest 2023 in March on Inis MórNuns on the run is a feature of Tedfest 2023 in March on Inis Mór Photo: Adam Patterson 

They also promise a “ Priests Dance Off, The Ghost Town Disco, The Craggy Comedy Craic Den, The Pan Asian Zen-Off, The Reverse Wheel of Death, the Father Ted Prizeless Quiz, Hide a Nun and Seek, and a finale on Sunday night titled 'We Made the BBC' with revellers dressed as their favourite BBC broadcasters”.

The website states, “please do not buy a ticket unless you have privately sourced accommodation or permission from another ticket holder to sleep with them”. The organisers say there is availability in Inis Mór’s glamping village.

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Islanders are unique people. I have often tried to make the point that we Irish should be particularly proud to claim that uniqueness because we live on an island at the edge of Western Europe. It is not a claim that is foremost in the minds of the majority of those who live on the Irish mainland; more is the pity in my view because if it were, there would probably be more understanding of the importance of the maritime sphere to this island nation.

The offshore islands are banded together under the umbrella of the Islands' Federation, Comhdhail Oilean na hEireann. They say their needs should be considered together as one region, which would be in line with the policy of other European countries, as opposed to what is done administratively in Ireland where each island is linked to its mainland county.

In its document' Our Rural Future, the Department of Rural and Community Development said that its ambition for the offshore islands is "to ensure our offshore islands continue to support sustainable and vibrant communities."

That needs to become a reality, according to islanders.

The Department has been working on an island policy document which it is understood will be completed early this year… The lack of appropriate, year-round affordable housing has been identified as a primary hurdle to island sustainability.

Listen to my Podcast below about the continued fight for survival by the offshore island communities.

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