Area: 70,282 sq. km. (27,136 sq. mi.); slightly larger
than West Virginia.
Terrain: Arable 10%, meadows and pastures 77%, rough grazing
in use 11%, inland water 2%.
Climate: Temperate maritime.
Nationality: Noun--Irishman, Irishwoman. Adjective--Irish.
Population (April 2007): 4,339,000.
Cities: Capital--Dublin (pop. 506,211). Other cities--Cork
(119,418), Galway (72,414), Limerick (52,539), Waterford
Population breakdown: 0-14 years (21%), 15-24 years (15%),
25-34 years (17%), 35-44 years (14%), 45-54 years (12%),
55-64 years (10%), 65 years and over (11%).
Population growth rate (2008 est.): 1.133%.
Ethnic groups: Irish, with English minority.
Religions: Roman Catholic 86.8%; Church of Ireland 3%;
Presbyterian 0.5%; Methodist 0.25%; Muslim 1%; Jewish 0.1%;
Languages: English, Irish (Gaelic).
Education: Compulsory up to age 16. Enrollment rates--first
(primary) level 471,519; second (high school and vocational)
level 333,718; third (university and college) level 138,362.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5.14/1,000. Life expectancy
at birth--male 75.44 yrs., female 80.88 yrs.
Work force: Services--67%, industry--27%, agriculture--6%.
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: December 6, 1921.
Constitution: December 29, 1937.
Branches: Executive--president, chief of state; Prime
Minister (Taoiseach--pronounced "TEE-shuck"), head of
government. Legislative--bicameral national Parliament (Oireachtas--pronounced
"o-ROCK-tas"): House of Representatives (Dail--pronounced "DOIL")
and Senate (Seanad--pronounced "SHAN-ad"). Judicial--Supreme
Administrative subdivisions: 26 counties, 34 local
Major political parties: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour,
Green Party, Sinn Fein.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
Nominal GDP (2008): $267.6 billion.
Real GDP growth (2008): -3.0%.
Nominal GDP per capita (2008): $60,510.
Natural resources: Zinc, lead, natural gas, barite, copper,
gypsum, limestone, dolomite, peat.
Agriculture (5% of GDP): Products--cattle, meat, and dairy
products; potatoes; barley; hay; silage; wheat.
Industry (46% of GDP): Types--food processing, beverages,
engineering, computer equipment, textiles and clothing,
chemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction.
Trade (2008, Ireland Central Statistics Office data):
Exports--$126.5 billion (excluding services): machinery,
transport equipment, chemicals, food, live animals,
manufactured materials, beverages. Imports--$84.3 billion
(excluding services): grains, petroleum products, machinery,
transport equipment, chemicals, textile yarns. Major
suppliers--Great Britain and Northern Ireland 31%, U.S. 11%,
Germany 8%, China 7%, Japan 4%, France 3%, rest of the world
(including other EU member states) 36%.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
The Irish people are mainly of Celtic origin, with the
country's only significant sized minority having descended
from the Anglo-Normans. English is the common language, but
Irish (Gaelic) is also an official language and is taught in
Anglo-Irish writers such as Swift, Sheridan, Goldsmith,
Burke, Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett have made a
major contribution to world literature over the past 300
The earliest inhabitants--people of a mid-Stone Age
culture--arrived about 6000 BC. About 4,000 years later,
tribes from southern Europe arrived and established a high
Neolithic culture, leaving behind gold ornaments and huge
stone monuments. The Bronze Age people, who arrived during
the next 1,000 years, produced elaborate gold and bronze
ornaments and weapons.
The Iron Age arrived abruptly in the fourth century BC with
the invasion of the Celts, a tall, energetic people who had
spread across Europe and Great Britain in the preceding
centuries. The Celts, or Gaels, and their more numerous
predecessors divided into five kingdoms in which, despite
constant strife, a rich culture flourished.
The coming of Christianity from across the Irish Sea brought
major changes and civilizing influences. Tradition maintains
that St. Patrick arrived on the island in AD 432 and, in the
years that followed, worked to convert the Irish to
The pagan druid tradition collapsed before the spread of the
new faith, and Irish scholars excelled in the study of Latin
learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that
flourished. Missionaries went forth from Ireland to England
and the continent, spreading news of the flowering of
learning, and scholars from other nations came to Irish
monasteries. The excellence and isolation of these
monasteries helped preserve Latin and Greek learning during
the Dark Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination,
metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such
treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelry, and the many
carved stone crosses that dot the island.
Two hundred years of Viking invasion and settlement was
later followed by a Norman conquest in the 12th century. The
Norman conquest resulted in the assimilation of the Norman
settlers into Irish society. The early 17th century saw the
arrival of Scottish and English Protestants, sent as
colonists to the north of Ireland and the Pale around
In 1800 the Irish Parliament passed the Act of Union with
Great Britain, and Ireland was an official part of the
United Kingdom until 1921. Religious freedom, outlawed in
the 18th century, was restored in 1829, but this victory for
the Irish Catholic majority was overshadowed by a severe
economic depression and the great famine from 1846-48 when
the potato crop failed. Millions died, and the millions that
emigrated spawned the first mass wave of Irish emigration to
the United States. A decade later, in 1858, the Irish
Republican Brotherhood (IRB--also known as the Fenians) was
founded as a secret society dedicated to armed rebellion
against the British. An aboveground political counterpart,
the Home Rule Movement, was created in 1874, advocating
constitutional change for independence.
Galvanized by the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, the
party was able to force British governments after 1885 to
introduce several home rule bills. The turn of the century
witnessed a surge of interest in Irish nationalism,
including the founding of Sinn Fein ("Ourselves Alone") as
an open political movement.
Nationalism was and is a potent populist force in Irish
politics. A home rule bill passed in 1914, but its
implementation was suspended until war in Europe ended.
Believing the mantra: "England's problem is Ireland's
opportunity," and tapping into a mood of Gaelic revivalism,
Padraic Pearse and James Connolly led the unsuccessful
Easter Rising of 1916. Pearse and the other 1916 leaders
declared an independent Irish republic, but a lack of
popular support doomed the rebellion, which lasted a week
and destroyed large portions of Dublin. The decision by the
British military government to execute the leaders of the
rebellion, coupled with the British Government's threat of
conscripting the Irish to fight in the Great War, alienated
public opinion and produced massive support for Sinn Fein in
the 1918 general election. Under the leadership of Eamon de
Valera, the elected Sinn Fein deputies constituted
themselves as the first Dail. Tensions only increased:
British attempts to smash Sinn Fein ignited the Anglo-Irish
War of 1919-1921.
The end of the war brought the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921,
which established the Irish Free State of 26 counties within
the British Commonwealth and recognized the partition of the
island into Ireland and Northern Ireland, though supposedly
as a temporary measure. The six predominantly Protestant
counties of northeast Ulster--Northern Ireland--remained a
part of the United Kingdom with limited self-government. A
significant Irish minority repudiated the treaty settlement
because of the continuance of subordinate ties to the
British monarch and the partition of the island. This
opposition led to further hostilities--a civil war
(1922-23), which was won by the pro-treaty forces.
In 1932, Eamon de Valera, the political leader of the forces
initially opposed to the treaty, became Prime Minister, and
a new Irish constitution was enacted in 1937. The last
British military bases were soon withdrawn, and the ports
were returned to Irish control. Ireland was neutral in World
War II. The government formally declared Ireland a republic
in 1948; however, it does not normally use the term
"Republic of Ireland," which tacitly acknowledges the
partition, but refers to the country simply as "Ireland."
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state with a
parliamentary system of government. The president, who
serves as head of state in a largely ceremonial role, is
elected for a 7-year term and can be re-elected only once.
The current president is Mary McAleese, who is serving her
second term after having succeeded President Mary
Robinson--the first instance worldwide where one woman has
followed another as an elected head of state. In carrying
out certain constitutional powers and functions, the
president is aided by the Council of State, an advisory
body. On the Taoiseach's (prime minister's) advice, the
president also dissolves the Oireachtas (Parliament).
The prime minister (Taoiseach, pronounced "TEE-shuck") is
elected by the Dail (lower house of Parliament) as the
leader of the political party, or coalition of parties,
which wins the most seats in the national elections, held
approximately every 5 years (unless called earlier).
Executive power is vested in a cabinet whose ministers are
nominated by the Taoiseach and approved by the Dail.
The bicameral Oireachtas (Parliament) consists of the Seanad
Eireann (Senate) and the Dail Eireann (House of
Representatives). The Seanad is composed of 60 members--11
nominated by the prime minister, 6 elected by the national
universities, and 43 elected from panels of candidates
established on a vocational basis. The Seanad has the power
to delay legislative proposals and is allowed 90 days to
consider and amend bills sent to it by the Dail, which
wields greater power in Parliament. The Dail has 166 members
popularly elected to a maximum term of 5 years under a
complex system of proportional representation. A member of
the Dail is known as a Teachta Dala, or TD.
Judges are appointed by the president on nomination by the
government and can be removed from office only for
misbehavior or incapacity and then only by resolution of
both houses of Parliament. The ultimate court of appeal is
the Supreme Court, consisting of the chief justice and five
other justices. The Supreme Court also can decide upon the
constitutionality of legislative acts if the president asks
for an opinion.
Local government is by elected county councils and--in the
cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford--by county
borough corporations. County councils/corporations in turn
select city mayors. In practice, however, authority remains
with the central government.
Irish politics remain dominated by the two political parties
that grew out of Ireland's bitter 1922-23 civil war. Fianna
Fail was formed by those who opposed the 1921 treaty that
partitioned the island. Although treaty opponents lost the
civil war, Fianna Fail soon became Ireland's largest
political party. Fine Gael, representative of the pro-treaty
forces, remains the country's second-largest party. The
Progressive Democrats, Labour, Sinn Fein, and the Greens are
the other significant parties.
The May 2007 national elections brought the Fianna Fail
party and its leader Bertie Ahern back to power in a
coalition government for an unprecedented third five-year
term. Coalition members joining Fianna Fail were the Green
Party and the Progressive Democrats. Ahern appointed Finance
Minister Brian Cowen Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste,
On April 3, 2008 Ahern announced his intention to resign as
leader of Fianna Fail and Taoiseach on May 6. Cowen was
elected leader of Fianna Fail on April 5, and assumed office
on May 6. He was elected Taoiseach on May 7. Cowen appointed
Mary Coughlan, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
as Tanaiste. The Foreign Minister is Micheal Martin.
The June 2004 local and European elections featured a
referendum on citizenship. Until that time, Ireland had
granted citizenship on the basis of birth on Irish soil.
Concerns about security and social welfare abuse prompted
the government to seek to bring citizenship laws in line
with the more restrictive policies prevalent in the rest of
Europe, and the 2004 referendum measure passed by a wide
majority. Now, persons with non-Irish parents can acquire
Irish citizenship at birth only if at least one parent has
been resident in Ireland for three years preceding the
birth. Fianna Fail suffered a solid defeat in the June 2009
local and European elections, with Fine Gael, Labour, and
Independents gaining healthy margins. In a referendum held
on October 2, 2009 Irish voters approved the European Union
(EU) Lisbon Treaty by 67.1% to 32.9%. However, the Irish
Government still faces multiple hurdles as it seeks to
manage the economic crisis and banking sector.
Consolidating the peace process in Northern Ireland and
encouraging the full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday
Agreement (GFA) and the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement remain
U.S. priorities in Ireland.
The conflict in Northern Ireland stems from a history of
British rule, historical animosity between Catholics and
Protestants, and the various armed and political attempts to
unite Northern Ireland with the rest of the island.
"Nationalist" and "Republican" groups seek a united Ireland,
while "Unionists" and "Loyalists" want Northern Ireland to
remain part of the United Kingdom. After decades of violence
by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, most notably
the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the British and Irish
Governments negotiated an IRA ceasefire in 1994, which was
followed by the landmark U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement
(GFA) in 1998.
The GFA established a power-sharing legislative assembly to
serve as the autonomous local government of Northern
Ireland. The 108-member Northern Ireland Assembly is led by
a first minister and deputy first minister, one from each of
the two communities, and a 10-minister executive. The GFA
also provided for changes in both the British and Irish
constitutions. Ireland ceded territorial claim to Northern
Ireland, and the U.K. agreed that Northern Ireland could
become part of Ireland if a majority (North and South) so
voted in the future. Finally, the GFA provided the blueprint
for "normalization," to include the eventual removal of
British forces, devolution of police and justice functions,
and guarantees of human rights and equal opportunity for all
individuals. The agreement was approved in a 1998 referendum
by 71% of Northern Ireland voters and 95% of Irish voters.
The major political parties in Northern Ireland are the
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Fein, the Ulster
Unionist Party (UUP), and the Social Democratic and Labor
Party (SDLP). The UUP and SDLP are centrist Unionist and
Nationalist parties, respectively, while Sinn Fein is
strongly Republican and the DUP is strongly Unionist. From
the time the Assembly was created in 1998 until 2003, the
UUP and SDLP were the governing parties.
In October 2002, the British Government suspended (for the
fourth time) the Assembly, following a breakdown in trust
between Unionists and Republicans. The British and Irish
Governments began discussions with the parties to try to
resolve longstanding unresolved differences between the
communities, and to secure a commitment from Sinn Fein that
Republicans would divest themselves of all paramilitary
activities and capabilities. Efforts to restore the
political process in time to stage new elections to the
Assembly in May 2003 broke down when the two governments
concluded they did not have sufficient assurances from the
Republicans. However, the governments proceeded to publish a
joint declaration, mapping out the timetable to full
implementation of the GFA. The governments also created an
International Monitoring Commission to serve as a forum to
hear complaints of alleged breaches of GFA commitments by
the political parties and/or by British authorities. The
four-member commission includes a representative from the
Beginning in 2005, there were significant steps to
reinvigorate the peace process. In July 2005, the IRA
unilaterally announced that it would end its "armed
struggle" and rely upon solely peaceful and democratic means
to achieve its political objectives. The Independent
International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) confirmed
in September 2005 that the IRA had effectively put its
weapons "beyond use." A series of reports by the
International Monitoring Commission also noted significant
progress by the IRA in its move away from criminality.
Following upon this momentum, the British and Irish
Governments in April 2006 launched a new negotiation process
that envisioned the restoration of the Assembly and the
selection of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister by
This process led to a summit at St. Andrews, Scotland, in
October 2006, brokered by Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach)
Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which
achieved agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the
process for restoring power to the Northern Ireland
Assembly. Elections for the Assembly took place on March 7,
2007, which led to the restoration of the Northern Ireland
Assembly on May 8, 2007. DUP leader Ian Paisley was elected
First Minister, while Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness
became Deputy First Minister. Two breakthroughs enabled this
historic agreement to proceed: Sinn Fein's decision at an
extraordinary Ard Fheis ("AR-desh," party conference) on
January 28 to endorse policing and justice; and the DUP's
decision to contest the March 7 election, signaling that the
party would agree to share power with Sinn Fein in a
restored Assembly. Both the British and Irish Governments
offered significant new financial packages for the new
In June 2008, Ian Paisley stepped down and was succeeded as
First Minister by Peter Robinson. In November 2008, the DUP
and Sinn Fein reached agreement on a roadmap to devolve
authority for policing and justice from the British
Government to the Northern Ireland Assembly, overcoming a
significant hurdle remaining in the implementation of the
Northern Ireland peace process. The political rapprochement
in Northern Ireland stood firm in the face of the murders of
two British soldiers and a policeman by republican
dissidents in March 2009.
Declan Kelly was appointed as the Economic Envoy to Northern
Ireland on September 11, 2009, a new position created by
Secretary of State Clinton aimed at furthering economic ties
between Northern Ireland and the United States. The Economic
Envoy coordinates economic collaboration for the mutual
benefit of Northern Ireland and the United States,
underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process by focusing
on the economic dividends of peace.
The United States also continues to provide funding ($29.9
million in 2009) for projects administered under the
International Fund for Ireland (IFI), created in 1986 to
generate economic opportunity and cross-community engagement
in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties (Cavan,
Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, and Sligo). Since the
IFI's establishment, the U.S. Government has contributed
over $486 million, roughly half of total IFI funding.
Principal Government Officials
Taoiseach (Prime Minister)--Brian Cowen
Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for
Enterprise, Trade, and Employment--Mary Coughlan
Foreign Minister--Micheal Martin
Ambassador to the United States--Michael Collins
The Irish Embassy in the United States is at 2234
Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.
202-462-3939). Irish Consulates are located in New York,
Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco.
Until 2008 Ireland boasted one of the most vibrant, open
economies in the world. The "Celtic Tiger" period of the
mid- to late 1990s saw several years of double-digit GDP
growth, driven by a progressive industrial policy that
boosted large-scale foreign direct investment and exports.
GDP growth dipped during the immediate post-September 11,
2001 global economic slowdown, but averaged roughly 5%
yearly between 2004 and 2007, the best performance for this
period among the original EU 15 member states. During that
period, the Irish economy generated roughly 90,000 new jobs
annually and attracted over 200,000 foreign workers, mostly
from the new EU member states, in an unprecedented
immigration influx. The construction sector accounted for
approximately one-quarter of these jobs. However, the Irish
economy began to experience a slowdown in 2008. The Irish
property market collapsed, putting pressure on the Irish
banks, which had a significant portion of their loan books
in real estate. This, in turn, caused a collapse in the
government’s finances because of a large dip in the amount
of revenue raised from value-added tax and tax on property
In 2009 the Irish economy experienced double-digit
unemployment, deflation, a virtual standstill in credit
availability, and a widening government budget deficit.
Under a deal cut with the EU, the Irish Government is
required by 2014 to bring the budget deficit under the 3%
requirement mandated by the EU's stability and growth pact.
On December 9, 2009 the government announced the first in a
series of difficult budgets--cutting spending by €4 billion
(approximately $5.8 billion). Following a $9.5 billion
recapitalization of Ireland’s two biggest banks and the
nationalization of the third-largest bank, on November 22,
2009, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) bill 2009
was signed into law. Under this program the government has
created a “bad bank” to acquire property and development
assets with a book value of €77 billion (approximately
$111.5 billion) for an estimated price of €54 billion
(approximately $78.2 billion).
Economic and trade ties are an important facet of overall
U.S.-Irish relations. In 2008, U.S. exports to Ireland were
valued at $8.65 billion, while Irish exports to the U.S.
totaled $31.35 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau
Foreign Trade Statistics. The range of U.S. exports includes
electrical components and equipment, computers and
peripherals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, and livestock feed.
Irish exports to the United States represent approximately
20% of all Irish exports, and have roughly the same value as
Irish exports to the U.K. (inclusive of Northern Ireland).
Exports to the United States include alcoholic beverages,
chemicals and related products, electronic data processing
equipment, electrical machinery, textiles and clothing, and
glassware. Irish investment in the United States steadily
increased during the economic boom times. Ireland is one of
the top twenty sources of foreign direct investment in the
U.S., with Irish food processing firms, in particular,
expanding their presence.
U.S. investment has been particularly important to the
growth and modernization of Irish industry over the past 25
years, providing new technology, export capabilities, and
employment opportunities. As of year-end 2008, the stock of
U.S. foreign direct investment in Ireland stood at $146
billion, more than the U.S. total for China, India, Russia,
and Brazil--the so-called BRIC countries--combined.
Currently, there are approximately 600 U.S. subsidiaries in
Ireland, employing roughly 100,000 people and spanning
activities from manufacturing of high-tech electronics,
computer products, medical supplies, and pharmaceuticals to
retailing, banking, finance, and other services. In more
recent years, Ireland has also become an important research
and development (R&D) center for U.S. firms in Europe.
Many U.S. businesses find Ireland an attractive location to
manufacture for the EU market, since it is inside the EU
customs area and uses the euro. U.S. firms year after year
account for over half of Ireland's total exports. Other
reasons for Ireland's attractiveness include: a 12.5%
corporate tax rate for domestic and foreign firms; the
quality and flexibility of the English-speaking work force;
cooperative labor relations; political stability;
pro-business government policies; a transparent judicial
system; strong intellectual property protection; and the
pulling power of existing companies operating successfully
(a "clustering" effect). Factors that negatively affect
Ireland's ability to attract investment include: increasing
labor and energy costs (especially when compared to low-cost
countries in Eastern Europe and Asia), skilled labor
shortages, inadequate infrastructure (such as in the
transportation and Internet/broadband sectors), and price
levels that are ranked among the highest in Europe.
Ireland is a member of numerous international organizations,
including the United Nations, the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union. Ireland
has been an important contributor to numerous international
peacekeeping missions, such as in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Liberia
(UNIMIL), the Balkans (KFOR and EUFOR), and Chad (EUFOR).
Ireland's overseas development assistance focuses on
Sub-Saharan Africa and stands at 5% of GDP.
U.S. relations with Ireland have long been based on common
ancestral ties and shared values. Besides regular dialogue
on political and economic issues, the U.S. and Irish
Governments have official exchanges in areas such as medical
research and education.
With Ireland's membership in the European Union, the
discussion of EU trade and economic policies, as well as
other aspects of EU policy, is also a key element in the
U.S.-Irish relationship. In recent years, Ireland has
attempted to act as a diplomatic bridge between the United
States and European Union. During its 2004 EU presidency,
Ireland worked to strengthen U.S.-EU ties that had been
strained by the Iraq war.
Emigration, long a mainstay of the U.S.-Irish relationship,
declined significantly with Ireland's economic boom in the
1990s. For the first time in its modern history, during the
first seven years of the decade, Ireland experienced high
levels of inward migration, a phenomenon with political,
economic, and social consequences. This trend has now
stopped, however. The recent economic downturn is being felt
throughout Ireland, but has had a particularly visible
impact on immigrant groups, especially those employed in the
building and construction trades where work has contracted.
As a result, many unemployed Irish and some politicians now
question publicly whether social benefits and work
opportunities should be made available to non-nationals. A
recent poll indicated that 40% of all 18-40 year-olds would
emigrate for economic reasons if they had the opportunity,
raising concerns by the government about a possible “brain
drain” similar to what happened in the 1970s-1980s.
Irish citizens have continued a common practice of taking
temporary residence overseas for work or study, mainly in
Australia, the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere in Europe, before
returning to establish careers in Ireland. Along with the
increased interest in long-term emigration, there has been a
recent surge of interest in “mid-term” emigration for 3-5
years, which has been mirrored in Irish Government interest
in a specialized extended-stay visa for mid-career
professionals to live/work in the U.S. The U.S. J-1 visa
program remains a popular means for Irish youths to work
temporarily in the United States, although a program
expansion in 2008 that provided further opportunities for
recent graduates to spend up to one year in the United
States has been undersubscribed. The Irish Government
continues to consider a priority the need to find a legal
remedy for those Irish living out of status in the United
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Daniel M. Rooney
Deputy Chief of Mission--Robert J. Faucher
Management Section Chief--Jeff Smith
Senior Commercial Officer--Stephen Anderson
Consular Section Chief--Jennifer Duval
Defense Attaché--Lt. Col. Shawn Purvis
Political/Economic Section Chief--Dwight Nystrom
Regional Security Officer--Mike Rohlfs
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Port Director--Juan
Public Affairs Officer--Karyn Posner-Mullen
The U.S. Embassy in Ireland is located at 42 Elgin Road,
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 (tel. 668-7122; fax 668-9946
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