21 May 2009

Saying "Sorry" is not enough

Yesterday the Irish government published a special report that is unique in the history of the State. It shows and documents - down to every detail - that for most of the 20th century Ireland was a cruel and inhumane country where thousands of innocent people, most of them young children, were victims of lengthy and systematic abuse of various kinds.
They were subjected to mental and physical cruelty on a regular basis, combined with severe beatings, deliberate malnutrition, constant exploitation, deprivation of all human and civic rights, and in many cases (mostly boys) also to sexual abuse.

If one would read this report without knowing beforehand what it is about, one would come to the conclusion that it must be a description of conditions in Soviet Gulag camps of the Stalin era, or of German concentration camps during World War II. But no, this is the long-awaited report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in Ireland!

After ten long years of painstaking inquiries, investigations, hearings and interviews, presided over first by Judge Mary Laffoy (left), who resigned after five years in protest over the lack of co-operation by the Department of Education, and then by Judge Seán Ryan (above right), the commission has compiled and presented a document of historic dimensions which should become part of the Irish educational curriculum in the same way as the detailed knowledge of Nazi concentration camps is taught in ever school in Germany since 1949.

In its printed form the full report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse covers more than 3000 pages and fills five large bound volumes (photo left). But it is also available on-line. To access it, go to: http://www.childabusecommission.com/rpt/

There will be very few people with enough time to read the report in its entirety, but I would urge anyone who has even the slightest interest in Ireland to have at least a good look at it.

Having read parts of it myself for several hours already, I should however warn you. This is not a text to peruse at ease or leisure. It is serious historic material, comprising the tragic life stories of thousands of unfortunate Irish children who were absorbed systematically into the money-making machine of the Catholic Church and its various religious orders and institutions.
There they were used as slave labour, dressed in shabby and filthy clothes, and fed barely more than scraps, which means they were always hungry and undernourished. This alone is a crime, a scandal and a serious breach of human rights.

But the harsh conditions under which the poor children in Ireland's Catholic orphanages and so-called 'industrial schools' were forced to live and work were - as strange as this might sound - only the background for the really serious abuse that took place there every day.

The children were beaten regularly and severely, and usually without any reason. There was also widespread sexual abuse, predominantly in the institutions for boys, where most of the staff members were sadistic and paedophile homosexual perverts.
The report states that "sexual abuse was endemic in boys' institutions and a chronic problem in some residential institutions". It also points out that the Church authorities, as well as elements in the State administration, were "fully aware" of this, but did absolutely nothing about it.

In fact, it appears that being cruel, sadistic and a paedophile homosexual pervert were almost pre-requisites for becoming an Irish 'Christian Brother', or at least to have a successful career in the congregation. And a large portion of the Irish nuns were not much better, although most of them preferred torture and sadistic physical abuse of the girls in their care to actual sexual acts.

But there was also some sexual abuse by nuns, in particular in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, where - according to the report - a senior nun "was drinking heavily in front of the children and in the pubs in town, was often drunk, and had a long-time lesbian relationship with her superior".
The same nun is described in the report as "completely incompetent in her job", but when she eventually left the 'Sisters of Mercy', she was given a very positive reference that helped her to get another job - working again with children - outside the order.

The commission received thousands of complaints of emotional, physical and sexual trauma, inflicted on children by Catholic priests, brothers and nuns over decades. And even though these horrific crimes against humanity are now out in the open, it is assumed that still not all of the victims of Catholic cruelty and child abuse have reported to the authorities or made claims to the commission. The reason is that a certain percentage of victims is now deceased, while others are "still too frightened to come forward".

Even those who did lodge complaints and made official statements are still suffering from their traumatic experience. And the way they were treated during the lengthy investigation added more stress, anxiety and mental distress, as representatives of the accused orders and their (usually very expensive) lawyers cross-examined the victims and often suggested that they were lying or making up stories, in the hope to receive financial compensation.

Such allegations have been vehemently denied and condemned by the victims, all of whom say that "this is not about money, this is about Justice".

More than 100 institutions all over Ireand, mostly run by religious orders, including 'industrial schools', institutions for children with disabilities and ordinary day schools, were examined by the commission, which was chaired for the first five years by Judge Mary Laffoy and for the second five years by Judge Seán Ryan.

The report states that physical punishment in the infamous 'industrial school' at Artane in Dublin was "excessive" and "children constantly felt under threat and were fearful".

Cruel physical punishment was also the daily norm in the 'industrial school' at Letterfrack in Co. Galway. According to the report, Letterfrack was "an inhospitable, bleak and isolated institution in which physical punishment was severe, excessive and pervasive". The report states that "for two thirds of the period under investigation there was at least one sexual abuser present in the institution".
Two abusers were present there for 14 years, and the congregation offered no explanation of how they remained there undetected and unreported for so long.

The report also describes how at St. Joseph's 'Industrial School' in Tralee, Co. Kerry, "a brother terrorised children for more than seven years after being moved there from a day school where his violence towards children was causing serious problems with parents".

The report says that the 'Christian Brothers' congregation "was defensive in the way it responded to complaints and claims" and that "the order fails to accept any congregational responsibility for such abuse".

More allegations were made against the 'Christian Brothers' than against all of the other male orders combined, and the report states that "the safety of children was not a priority for the 'Christian Brothers' who ran the institutions".

In a written statement the current leadership of the 'Christian Brothers' says: "We apologise openly and unreservedly to all those who have been hurt either directly or indirectly as a result of the deplorable actions of some Brothers, or by the inaction or inappropriate action of the Congregation as a whole. We are sorry for the hurt caused. We are ashamed and saddened that many who complained of abuse were not listened to. We acknowledge that our responses to physical and sexual abuse failed to consider the long term psychological effects on children."

But that is it. Just words, not backed by any visible deeds of atonement or reparation. In fact, the 'Christian Brothers' have been fighting the many allegations made against them tooth and nail, and with the help of very senior (and thus very expensive) lawyers. Many of their victims (who are by now middle-aged or even elderly) stated on several RTÉ radio programmes that until very recently members of the current leadership of the 'Christian Brothers', in particular Br. Garvey and Br. Mullen, openly and aggressively disputed their allegations, calling them liars and suggesting that they were only after compensation money.
Many of the victims have also said that the verbal apology the 'Christian Brothers' have now issued is "insincere" and consists only of "lukewarm words in the face of hard facts".

As Waterford is the city where the 'Christian Brothers' were originally founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice (right) 200 years ago*, there is a specific interest in this matter here.
I have been down-town for meetings yesterday evening and earlier today, and I have never seen so many people so angry. The outrage over the decades of systematic child abuse in Ireland, organised and perpetrated by the Catholic Church, is even stronger than the widespread anger against our current government.

It appears that those who were in charge of the more than a hundred institutions that were supposed to look after Ireland's most unfortunate children - predominantly 'Christian Brothers' and nuns from several orders, but mostly 'Sisters of Mercy' - had no qualifications at all in childcare and social work.
Instead most of them were masters of sadism, brutality, cruelty and child abuse. They were supposed to have dedicated their lives "to follow Christ" and to humble service in the Catholic Church, but in fact they were nothing more than cruel concentration camp guards, wielding enormous powers over large amounts of vulnerable and defenceless children, for whom - as the report states clearly - no-one in Ireland cared at all. Not the Church, in whose care they were; and not the State, whose officials, courts and institutions put them there, to be exploited, abused and forgotten.

Yes, as much as the main guilt lies firmly with the Catholic Church and her various orders, congregations and institutions, the Irish State, successive governments (lead by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) and a long string of civil servants, local officials, judges, social workers and gardai (Irish policemen) were willing collaborators and must therefore share a portion of the heavy responsibility.

When Ireland won her freedom from Britain - first in a limited form in 1922, and then as a fully sovereign republic in 1949 - the idea was to establish a truly independent state with freedom, fairness and justice. I cannot find any reference to Gulags and concentration camps for children in any of the writings and speeches of Irish politicians of the time. Nor do I find such references in the official teachings and documents of the Catholic Church.
But, as Judge Ryan and his commission have now established beyond any doubt, this is exactly what the Church - with the help, support and collusion of Irish politicians and civil servants - established: Horrific concentration camps for Irish children.

And like the German concentration camps under the Nazi regime, their main purpose was to employ slave labour and create large profits for those who controlled and ran them (in Germany the SS, in Ireland various religious orders). A similar attitude, though less greedy, was also the base idea of the Stalinist Gulags in Soviet Russia.

It is important to point out that the Church did not - and could not - just round up children and put them into their slave camps. For the recruitment of their slaves they needed the help of the State, which was willingly and happily given. In particular the poor Irish underclass was targeted systematically.
Children who had problems (or 'learning difficulties', as we now call them) in regular schools were sent to the 'special' schools, which were also the destination for all orphans and children of single parents. There they were mixed with juvenile delinquents and young petty criminals, mentally and physically handicapped children, and also those who were deemed to be 'unruly' by someone with authority. This could be a teacher, a priest, a garda or even an unfit parent, wanting to get rid of a child.

The Irish Gulag institutions received generous 'head money' from the State for taking them in, and after the system was established and had produced handsome profits for religious orders, they literally cried out for more and more children. In general the Irish State, its government and civil service obliged and sent ever more unfortunate innocents into the hell holes of the Catholic Church.

Only very few ever tried to swim against the tide, and they were not popular for doing so. One particular Judge, who refused to send children en masse to the Catholic 'industrial schools', was black-marked by the then (Fianna Fáil) Minister of Justice, who even tried to get him removed, using a secret internal committee of civil servants for his conspiracy.

It is also worth to remember that this network of organised crime was not entirely in the hands of the Catholic Church. They had helpers in many areas and on many levels, including one that might be least suspected for such crimes.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), formerly known as the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), was a very active and keen supplier of fresh victims to the Catholic concentration camps. The society employed self-appointed 'inspectors', commonly known as 'cruelty men', who walked around the poor and deprived districts and housing estates, always on the lookout for 'neglected children'. They snooped around, interfered with existing families and intimidated vulnerable people on a regular basis. And whenever they found another 'neglected child', the poor innocent victim was rounded up by them and delivered to the nearest Catholic Gulag.

The commission report strongly criticises the Department of Education for its handling of complaints about residential institutions, citing that "the Department of Education generally dismissed or ignored complaints of child sexual abuse and dealt inadequately with them".

Batt O'Keeffe (left), the current Minister for Education, has stated yesterday that the government would "carefully study the findings and recommendations in the report". Well, one would hope so, as this is the least the ministers can do.
O'Keeffe also "extended his sympathy" to those who were subjected to abuse while residents in 'industrial schools'.
But once again, all the victims receive are words. What they want to see are deeds and Justice. But there is little hope for that, and certainly not under a deeply corrupt and incompetent Fianna Fáil government that has not only neglected the abuse victims, but meanwhile wrecked the whole country.

Like many of his predecessors, Batt O'Keeffe is closing his eyes and mind, hoping the matter will soon be forgotten. This is the way Fianna Fáil has always ruled Ireland, in tandem with the Catholic Church. They both love ignorant and gullible people, who can be used and abused at their pleasure. And they are both quite happy to do so.

But this matter will not be forgotten. The anger of thousands of Irish people will not disappear because ministers and bishops want it so.

Judge Ryan and his commission recommend that a memorial should be erected, inscribed with the words the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern used in 1999, when he issued a formal apology to the victims of abuse and established the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

In the past 24 hours, since the report was presented to the media in a Dublin hotel, many voices have been heard all around Ireland. And they all expressed "shock" or "sadness", others voiced "outrage", "anger" and "fury".

Ireland's President Mary McAleese (right) expressed deep sadness at the findings of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.
Welcoming the publication of the report and its comprehensive nature, the President said: "It is shocking and shameful that so many children had to endure such appalling suffering and abuse in institutions whose obligation and vocation it was to provide them with safe and loving care. It was an atrocious betrayal of love, and my heart goes out to the victims of this terrible injustice, an injustice compounded by the fact that they had to suffer in silence for so long."

Cardinal Seán Brady (left), the Archbishop of Armagh (and head of the Catholic Church in Ireland) also gave a public statement.
He welcomed the report and said that "it documents a shameful catalogue of cruelty: neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, perpetrated against children".
"I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions," Brady said. "Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ."

Well spoken. And I do acknowledge that Seán Brady is one of the few men in the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland who can be trusted and has no shady past. (During most of the time the horrible crimes against children were committed in Ireland, Brady was in Rome, where his last position was that of Rector of the Irish College.)

But with all respect to the Cardinal, saying "Sorry" is not enough. What the thousands of victims demand, deserve and should receive is fairness and Justice. However - due to the selfish interests of the Catholic Church - there is little chance for that.
In 2002 the Church and her exposed criminal orders and congregations agreed a 'settlement' with the State which let them almost completely off the hook. Under this deal the contribution of the religious orders to the government's official 'Redress Scheme' was capped at € 127 million (equivalent to Ir£ 100 million in old money), but it is estimated that the State will end up paying at least ten times that amount.
And there is a further problem: Of the € 127 million the orders are willing to pay, only € 40 million are in cash (and some of that has yet to be collected). The rest is the value of certain buildings, owned by religious orders, which should be handed over to the State in lieu of money.
However, many of these buildings are already used by the state (mostly for educational and medical purposes), while approximately 20% of the buildings are meanwhile of almost no value at all.

The 'genius' who negotiated this one-sided deal with the religious orders was the senior Fianna Fáil politician Michael Woods (left), who signed the agreement in June 2002, only hours before he left his post as Minister for Education.**

Some may think that this is quite acceptable, since the Irish State, several governments and numerous civil servants have colluded with the Church and are thus as guilty of the crimes as the actual perpetrators. But I disagree, and many people in Ireland do the same.

The Catholic Church as a whole has immense wealth and ranks among the riches organisations in the world. And the religious orders are quite wealthy, too. Thus they could well afford to be more generous, without going broke. But since the majority of Irish politicians, especially those from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are still in hock to the Catholic Church, a change of policy is rather unlikely.

The travesty of Irish investigations and 'Justice' goes even further. Under the strict remit of the commission, the report does not identify any 'respondents' (which is a nice legal word for criminals and perpetrators) and gives pseudonyms to those who were found guilty in a criminal trial. Thus the 'good names' of the Catholic gangsters, rapists, torturers, child abusers and concentration camp guards are protected by the Republic of Ireland and its incompetent, corrupt and immoral government, while thousands of victims are out there, all over the country, traumatised, frightened, upset - and still ignored by those who pretend to care for them.

The victims of the horrific and systemic abuse are not looking for money, and certainly not for any more meaningless words, uttered by people who were not personally involved, but who are now in charge of organisations that were. The demand of the victims is for Justice.

But that is the one thing that seems not to be on offer. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Irish government are interested in Justice, knowing only too well how deeply they are both stuck in the mud of guilt, and how much they were part of the conspiracy and cover-up for decades.
No, there will be no Justice for the victims, only empty words from pompous and incompetent leaders who are incapable to face and accept the facts and make a fresh start when it is needed.

There were plenty of Nazis in Germany before Hitler, and even more after his death. And there were plenty of cruel and sadistic Catholics in Ireland before the first 'industrial school' opened. Plenty of them are still here, many years after the last institution has closed. This seems to be the rule of the world, that evil always triumphs, no matter where it raises its ugly head.

It was the Irishman Edmund Burke (right) - the greatest philosopher this nation has ever produced - who said that "Evil exists because good people do nothing".

And this puts it right to the point.

There were plenty of these sinister Catholic institutions in Ireland, and everyone knew them or knew enough about them. Ordinary people on the outside might well not have known in detail what was really going on inside, and they might not have imagined the beatings and torture, rape and sexual abuse. But everyone knew that there was 'something wrong' with them. Parents mentioned them to scare their own children and bring them to discipline, and enough civil servants and gardai knew the whole truth.
But none of these 'good Catholics' and 'upright Irish citizens' did anything to help the suffering children or said a single word.

Shame on them all! May their souls rot in Hell, where they belong!

Personally I cannot understand how anyone on this island can still be a practising Catholic. You don't have to give up your beliefs, and there is nothing wrong with being a Christian. But every time you go to Mass in a Catholic Church, and every time you make a donation to this Church, you should be aware that you are actively supporting a deeply rotten, immoral and criminal organisation.

If I had the power to do it, I would ban the Catholic Church from Ireland, close down all her institutions and confiscate all her money and property here. (You would be surprised how much that actually is...)
But I am a realist and fully aware that this will never happen, especially since it was done before (by King Henry VIII of England), even though for entirely different reasons.

However, what could and should be done is a serious approach of the responsibility question. Any person found guilty of crimes, especially crimes against defenceless and vulnerable children, should be identified and named in the report. (Using pseudonyms to protect serial child abusers is the most absurd and inappropriate idea I have ever heard of or seen in this regard.) The naming should include both living and deceased perpetrators.

All accused who have not had a trial yet should be brought before an Irish Judge to face Justice in due course, regardless of their age and status.*** This process should not be limited to priests and religious. Anyone who was in one way or another involved in the establishment, running, maintenance or support of the Irish concentration camps for children should be investigated and tried in a court of law.
It is the only way to achieve closure of this very dark and shameful chapter of modern Irish history. If we fail to do that, many generations of Irish people will live with a shadow of guilt and injustice.

Religious orders and congregations that were found responsible for crimes against innocent children should be closed down by the State, banned from working in Ireland, and their entire funds and property should be confiscated and used for compensation payments to abuse victims.
Canada did exactly that a few years ago to great effect. When the authorities discovered what the 'Christian Brothers' - yes, the very same Irish congregation from Waterford that did so much harm to many of our own boys - were doing in the eastern province of Newfoundland, they reacted quickly and decisively. All identified victims of the brothers were fully - and speedily - compensated by the Canadian government, which took good care of its vulnerable citizens. Then the Canadian authorities - in the capital Ottawa as well as in the province of Newfoundland - turned to the 'Christian Brothers' and sued them for every penny of compensation. Eventually the Newfoundland branch of the congregation was forced to declare bankruptcy, the brothers were banned from ever working in Canada again, and all those who were not Canadian citizens were deported (most of them back to Ireland).****

All schools owned or controlled by the religious orders (even though most of them are now run on a day-to-day basis by lay people who are employees of the school) should now be taken over immediately by the State. (There are still more than 100 'Christian Brothers' schools for boys in Ireland - just look for the letters CBS in school lists - despite all that has happened there and in other institutions run by the brothers.)

And furthermore, all religions and beliefs should be removed from the curricula. There should be the same standard of education for every pupil in the country, based on a national curriculum, set and controlled by the Department of Education. No religious, regardless if Catholic or of any other belief system, should be allowed to teach in a state school. (If children or - more likely - their parents want a religious indoctrination to take place, this can happen at other times and outside the schools, in churches, chapels, temples, mosques or even in private houses.)

Freedom of Religion, as guaranteed by our Constitution, means exactly that: Freedom to believe in whatever one wants to believe, freedom to worship in whatever form one might chose, and freedom to attend religious gatherings, ceremonies and services one feels attracted to.
Freedom of Religion does not give anyone - or any religion - the right to dominate, indoctrinate or intimidate Irish people, and in particular not children. So we should keep this in mind and act accordingly.

If we care for the Irish nation, and especially for our children, then we should prevent criminal organisations like the religious orders of the Catholic Church from having any power or influence in future. Letting them plod and meddle on as if nothing has happened in the past would be the same as allowing the Nazis to carry on as a political party in Germany after 1945.

This is a decisive moment in modern Irish history, and we all should make sure that we learn the lessons from the tragedies and inexcusable crimes of the past.
If we fail to do that, we deny the thousands of victims the Justice they deserve. We also allow the horrible crimes of the Catholic Church and her orders and institutions - allowed, assisted and tolerated by the Irish State and several governments - to be pushed under a carpet of artificial silence. And that could easily lead to a repetition of history, sooner or later, as it has happened in other countries that chose to ignore their past and to deny Justice to those who deserved it.

The Irish nation stands at a cross-road today, and whatever path we chose from here, we will have to live with the consequences for a long time.
For me it is clear that saying "Sorry" and moving on is not good enough. I sincerely hope that the majority of my compatriots will see it the same way and not allow politicians, judges, lawyers, bishops, religious and criminals to get away with their attempt of pulling a blanket of silence over the worst crimes ever committed against Irish people.

As we are currently in an election campaign, politicians will appear on our doorsteps, canvassing and asking for our votes and support. I will ask them what they will do about the now officially documented crimes against several generations of our children, and depending on their answers I will vote.
I hope you will all do the same, in the interest of our children, our collective conscience and our national decency. If we fail to do it, being Irish will in future be seen by the rest of the world in the same way as being a Nazi, a Stalinist thug or a Khmer Rouge.

A thousand years ago we were known as the 'island of saints and scholars'. We are now in danger of being seen as the 'island of Catholic Gulags and organised child abuse'.
Only a radical public outcry and a demand for unlimited openness and Justice for the victims can restore our national decency. We can never undo what was done to Irish children over decades, but we can stand up, atone for our collective silence and ignorance, demand Justice for the victims and punish those who committed the crimes. Let us join forces as a nation and do it!

The Emerald Islander

* Rice, a wealthy merchant in Waterford City, became increasingly religious during the last years of the 18th century, after his wife Mary had died in an accident. In 1802 he opened a makeshift (Catholic) school for poor children in a converted barn in the inner city. By doing so, he was breaking the (British) law that forbade all Catholic education in Ireland. But by using his status and influence, Rice got away with it and his school grew fast. In 1808 he and six other men who had supported him over the years as teachers, took religious vows and formed a small new congregation. It was the first ever order of Catholic male religious founded in Ireland.
Originally they called themselves the 'Presentation Brothers' (inspired by the already existing female order of 'Presentation Sisters'). The congregation split during the 1820s into two independent organisations. One kept the original name, while the other, of which Rice was the head, called itself from then on 'Christian Brothers'. (Both congregations still exist as separate - but co-operating - organisations today. But as there have been almost no vocations in Ireland for years, the brothers - as most religious orders - are now depending on new vocations from the so-called 'Third World'.)

** This practice of rushing things through before ministers change office is a hallmark of Fianna Fáil politics on the hoof. Five years later, in June 2007, the same happened again when Fianna Fáil minister Dick Roche signed the final building orders for the very controversial M 3 motorway across Co. Meath - which destroys parts of the historical sites around the ancient Hill of Tara - only an hour before handing over the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to his successor, the Green Party leader John Gormley (who would most likely not have signed these orders).

*** Only a few days ago John (Ivan) Demjanjuk, an 89-year-old man in a wheelchair, was extradited from the USA to Germany to face trial in one of the last ever Nazi concentration camp cases. Demjanjuk, who is not even German but Ukrainian by birth and now an American cirizen, denies the allegation that in his youth he was 'Ivan the Terrible', a feared and exceptionally cruel guard at the Nazi concentration camp Treblinka.
He is only the latest (and probably the last) in a long line of old and middle-aged men who were investigated, persued and brought to trial over their past involvement with the Nazis, the SS and their concentration camps. Thousands were tried, most of them were found guilty and sent to prison, while others went free on proven innocence or due to lack of evidence. But there was a clear and fair process, and Justice - as difficult as it was to achieve - was done.
The same procedure should be applied to all those accused of sexual abuse and other crimes against children in Ireland. It should not matter if they are priests, brothers, nuns or lay people; if they are old and retired or still active today. Justice has to mean the same for everyone, regardless of age and status.

**** Unfortunately for the Canadian government the 'Christian Brothers' in Newfoundland's capital St. John's were clever bastards and really skilled criminals. Before government departments could bring the full force of the Law into motion against them, they had moved a lot of their money out of Canada and into off-shore bank accounts in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.
If Jesus - the one they pretend to follow - would be here today, he would drive them out of the Church with a whip, just as he drove the money lenders and greedy people out of the Temple in Jerusalem. And if Edmund Ignatius Rice would still be around, he would probably close down his own congregation in shame. At least he would throw the rotten apples out of his barrel.
But since he is long dead, he must be rotating in his large sarcophagus, which is on public display in a specially built chapel at Mount Sion in Waterford, where the wealth and spleandour of the 'Christian Brothers' is visible for everyone who visits the place.

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