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Media Minister Catherine Martin Oireachtas TV

Catherine Martin grilled over Siún Ní Raghallaigh's resignation at Oireachtas Media Committee

The Minister told TDs and Senators that Siún Ní Raghallaigh had “indicated she might resign” ahead of Martin’s interview on Prime Time last Thursday.

MEDIA MINISTER CATHERINE Martin faced a three-hour grilling by TDs and Senators at the Oireachtas Media Committee this evening about the resignation of the former chair of the RTÉ board, Siún Ní Raghallaigh. 

During the committee, the Minister disclosed that the former chair had “indicated she might resign” if she received a letter ahead of Martin’s interview on Prime Time last Thursday. 

She said she sent the letter that evening anyway, as she hoped Ní Raghallaigh’s indication was merely “a rash comment”, adding: “It was so astounding.”

In her opening statement to the committee, Martin said that the events of last week were “not the first time” Ní Raghallaigh “failed to give a clear account of her and the Board’s work at RTÉ”. 

She also told the committee that the Director General Kevin Bakhurst had told her that his predecessor Dee Forbes did not received an exit package when she left the broadcaster. 

The committee also heard:

  • Martin gave the committee a timeline of the events leading up to her Prime Time interview last Thursday.
  • The Minister has confidence in Kevin Bakhurst, despite him being aware that the information provided to the Minister in relation to whether the board had oversight of the former chief financial officer Richard Collins’s exit package was incorrect. 
  • The Minister did not expect to be asked if she still had confidence in Siún Ní Raghallaigh during her Prime Time interview, adding that she did everything she could to avoid saying that she had no confidence in the former chair.
  • Martin hopes to appoint a full-time chairperson to the RTÉ board within a week. 
  • The independent reports into RTÉ by the Expert Advisory Committees are expected to be completed in March.
  • Martin also hopes to bring a paper to Cabinet on a new funding model for RTÉ before the summer.
  • The Media Committee will extend invitations to Siún Ní Raghallaigh and former Secretary General to the Department of Media Katherine Licken to answer questions. 

Good evening and welcome to The Journal’s liveblog of this evening’s Oireachtas Media Committee.

Media Minister Catherine Martin will face three hours of questioning from politicians about the crisis surrounding the resignation of former chair of the RTÉ Board Siún Ní Raghallaigh, and the details of who knew what when in relation to the broadcaster’s handling of exit packages for former executives.

The committee will begin at 7pm. You’ll be able to watch it on our liveblog, or on the Oireachtas website.

We’ll be bringing you all the latest from the committee as it happens. But first, let’s recap on how we got here.

Our Political Reporter Jane Matthews has written a roundup of the events leading up to the latest RTÉ drama, what questions the Minister faces and whether a motion of no confidence in her will be tabled.

You can read it here in four minutes flat.

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Here’s what we know so far:

  • The latest RTÉ controversy began on Prime Time last Thursday, when Catherine Martin refused to express confidence in Siún Ní Raghallaigh during an interview on Prime Time.
  • During the interview, Martin said she had been given incorrect information on two occasions that week when she asked the then-chair if the exit payment for RTÉ’s former chief financial officer Richard Collins had been approved by the board.
  • Less than four hours later, Siún Ní Raghallaigh resigned from her position, saying it was “abundantly clear” her position was “no longer tenable”.
  • The following day, RTÉ released a statement saying Ní Raghallaigh had told the (now former) Secretary General of the Department of Media Katherine Licken that RTÉ’s remuneration committee had approved the exit package for Collins in a phone call on 10 October.
  • Martin later disputed this version of events, saying on Friday that she was told by Licken that week that she was merely informed in the phone call that the exit process for Collins was complete – not that the package was approved.
  • However, reports in the Business Post at the weekend directly contradict the Minister’s version of events.

In her opening statement, Catherine Martin will tell the committee that Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s failure to provide “accurate and timely” information “gave me considerable cause for concern”.

Regrettably, this was not the first time that the then Chair had failed to give me a clear account of her and the Board’s work at RTÉ.

“My relationship, as Media Minister, is through the Chair. This relationship is fundamental to the development of a positive and productive future for the organisation.”

The Minister will say she is “willing to elaborate further on the events of last Thursday” at the committee. She appeared on the Prime Time programme and sought a meeting with Ní Raghallaigh on Thursday. 

She will also tell the committee that she had agreed to do the Prime Time interview two days beforehand. “It was a good opportunity to give my views on the updated legal advice on exit payments, and to discuss the future funding of public service media.

“Clearly, I would much prefer if I could have had that meeting with Siún Ní Raghallaigh on Friday and I do regret that she chose to resign rather than have that discussion.”

file-photo-labour-leader-ivana-bacik-has-called-on-minister-catherine-martin-to-answer-questions-on-the-circumstances-leading-to-siun-ni-raghallaighs-resignation-end Labour leader Ivana Bacik. Sasko Lazarov / Sasko Lazarov / /

Earlier today, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the latest RTÉ “existential crisis” is one of Catherine Martin’s own making.

Bacik said the minister has still not answered the question as to why she went on Prime Time last Thursday night “and effectively carried out a summary dismissal of the chairperson of the state board”. 

“We want to see questions and answers in the Dáil tomorrow, however, because there are so many questions,” she said. 

The key one remains why the minister took the peremptory action she did on Thursday night, having taken such a hands-off approach to the ongoing crisis in RTE for so long.

Last week, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said that Martin’s position “is now untenable”

Other opposition TDs have also rounded on Catherine Martin and her handling of the situation.

Social Democrat TD Roisin Shortall said this morning that Martin has handled the latest fallout “very badly”.

“It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Minister Martin made a serious blunder last Thursday by going on the Prime Time programme,” she said.

“That was very ill-judged in our view, and clearly she was seriously ill-informed about the background to the issue of the exit packages.

“We know now of course that the outgoing chair had notified her department about the packages, the minister didn’t seem to be aware of that at all,” she added.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the fallout shows “a completely shambolic dysfunctional relationship” between the minister and RTÉ.

“It is really stomach-churning for ordinary workers to hear about these absolutely enormous golden handshakes being given to executives, and we still can’t get to the bottom of who knew what, when, who signed off on these things, who approved them,” he said.

“We need to remember that this is public taxpayers’ money, taxpayers who never see these kinds of enormous salaries, six-figure salaries, enormous golden handshakes.

“So it is really outrageous at this stage that the government have failed to get a handle on this situation.”

In the Dail this afternoon, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and other opposition TDs called on Catherine Martin to answer TDs questions in the Dáil, rather than simply taking statements.

“The minister has badly the mishandled the RTE debacle and now has added to the chaos,” McDonald said.

“A lack of transparency and accountability has broken public trust in RTÉ and it now seems that the minister is not prepared to be fully transparent and accountable and, Ceann Comhairle, that is not an acceptable situation. So we want to press that the minister not just make a statement, but also take questions when she appears before the House.”

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe responded by saying that Martin would be in front of the Oireachtas committee “for many hours” this evening.

“She will then be in the Dáil here tomorrow afternoon making statements, hearing the views of deputies and responding back at the end of that to the questions that are being put to her,” he said.

“But the appropriate place in which this matter should be dealt with is in the Oireachtas committee that’s responsible for the media.”

river (90) Image of RTÉ staff taking part in a protest at the Donnybrook headquarters in last June. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Amid the latest controversy, RTÉ staff are set to hold a rally at lunchtime tomorrow at the plaza in RTÉ Donnybrook. 

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that the rally is in “response to member requests”.

A spokesperson said RTÉ staff want to ensure that the “urgent need for future funding” of the broadcaster remains the “firm focus despite the unwelcome distractions of the past week”.

We’ll be bringing you all the latest from the Oireachtas Media Committee when it begins at 7pm this evening. 

The Oireachtas Media Committee is underway.

Media Minister Catherine Martin is making her opening remarks to the committee. She says she will “not be deflected from the priority of delivering reform”.

“I am determined that this will be the Government that decides on a sustainable funding model for public service media,” she says.

Addressing reform of RTÉ, Martin says the Government established two Expert Advisory Committees “in order to bring about meaningful change”.

“These committees were tasked, not only with reviewing what had happened and why, but also to bring forward recommendations to chart a new way forward.”

She says that while she had hoped to have the reports by the end of this month, she has been advised that final review processes need to be completed before the Committees are in a position to submit their reports to her.

“I expect that both reviews will be submitted to me during March,” she says.

She says she is “fully committed” to bringing forward reform of the TV licence “so that necessary funding support for public service media can be put on a sustainable footing”.

Screenshot (512) Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Martin now comes to “the events of last week”.

She tells the committee that Director General Kevin Bakhurst has sought updated legal advice on whether “key details” in relation to the payments to a number of executives could be disclosed.

“While the legal advice is clear that neither data protection law nor confidentiality clauses cannot be breached, I still believe that maximum possible transparency is required into these matters so that we can continue the process of rebuilding trust in RTÉ as one of our public service broadcasters.”

Martin says she was told by Ní Raghallaigh “that there was no formal approval role for the board” in exit packages. 

She says ahead of a subsequent meeting on Wednesday, she received a letter from RTÉ outlining the updated legal advice it had received. “One paragraph referenced board involvement “where relevant” in termination payments.”

She says she sought confirmation on this issue from Ní Raghallaigh, and was again told that there was “no board involvement whatsoever”.

On Thursday, Ní Raghallaigh contacted Department officials to say that she had “inadvertently given me incorrect information and that the severance package” for Richard Collins had been approved on 10 October. 

Martin tells the committee that Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s failure to provide “accurate and timely” information “gave me considerable cause for concern”.

“Regrettably, this was not the first time that the then Chair had failed to give me a clear account of her and the Board’s work at RTÉ,” she says. 

“My relationship, as Media Minister, is through the Chair. This relationship is fundamental to the development of a positive and productive future for the organisation.”

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Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield is first up to ask questions. 

“I have to put it to you that instead of sitting in a television studio last Thursday night, you should have been sitting opposite Siún Ní Raghallaigh,” he begins.

Martin reiterates that the Prime Time interview was prearranged. “I thought it would it would be wrong for me to just pull out of an interview that was pre-arranged”, she says, saying she felt it needed more than a rushed meeting on Thursday night.

Warfield tells Martin that as politicians, both of them know that interview plans change and guests often cancel at short notice.

“I don’t think your first job as minister is to go on television,” he says.

“Surely you knew you were going to be asked, had you confidence in Siún Ní Raghallaigh?”

Martin responds: “It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in an interview.”

Warfield says he feels “at worst”, this was a carefully planned effort to get rid of Siún Ní Raghallaigh.

“On this occasion, with respect to you, you’ve crashed the car here and you’ve driven it as fast as possible into a wall.”

Martin responds: “At no stage have I said [being misled] was intentional.

“If the chair is pressed on numerous occasions in relation to her role… if I’m not getting the correct information, how can I act properly as a Minister?”

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Senator Shane Cassels is up next. He asks the Minister if she believes she was intentionally lied to by the former RTÉ chair. Martin says she does not believe it was intentional.

Cassels refers to Martin’s statement where she stated that it was not the first time that Ní Raghallaigh had failed to give her accurate information. He asks when the other occasions were.

“The very first occasion was in relation to a committee hearing when she had sought the resignation of Dee Forbes, and she rang me the next day to say she forgot to tell me,” Martin says.

She says Ní Raghallaigh also apologised to her last Monday for not telling her that Rory Coveney hadn’t merely resigned, but had in fact received an exit package.

Cassels puts it to Martin that while she could have pulled out of Prime Time, she chose to do the interview to show Siún Ní Raghallaigh “who’s boss”, and “that’s why you ended up throwing her under a bus?”

“Absolutely not,” Martin responds. 

Cassells now turns to Director General Kevin Bakhurst, who he says “said nada” about the role of the board in approving the exit packages during the meeting last Monday, despite knowing that it had a role. 

He asks Martin if she has confidence in him “given that he sat in that room and said nothing”. Martin says she has, saying that her “direct role is always with the Chair”.

Cassells says that Martin having confidence in Bakhurst but not the former chair is “amazing”.

“[Bakhurst] knowingly sat there and let that misinformation be given to you. Either that, or nobody knows what’s going on in RTÉ whatsoever,” Cassels says.

“Why bother summoning him at all? Was he there to make the tea?”

Martin reiterates that her role is with the chair.

Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy is now asking questions. He asks the Minister to elaborate on why she asked Ní Raghallaigh a second time about the role of the board.

Martin refers back to seeing the reference to a board role “where relevant” in the letter she received, saying something about it “jumped out at me”. 

This made her ask the question of the board again, and again, she was told it had no role. 

Carrigy says Bakhurst was also sitting in the room and made no effort to contradict the comments made by the former chair. Martin says he was. 

“I don’t have confidence in Kevin Bakhurst in his position,” Carrigy says.

“He should have given that information to you as part of the Government, and I feel he’s compromised on that basis.”

Catherine Martin says that Dee Forbes should “absolutely” come before the committee to ask questions.

Asked about the former Secretary General of the Department Katherine Licken, Martin says that she should also come before the committee if a formal invitation is issued to her.

“That would be helpful,” she says.

Martin says she hopes to have a nomination for a new RTÉ chair within the next week. 

Screenshot (519) Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Next up, Independent TD Mattie McGrath.

He tells Martin: “You haven’t addressed this situation properly as the Minister in charge and you’ve allowed the public’s confidence in RTÉ to be further eroded.”

He says the “fraud squad” should have handled the situation from the beginning, and asks Martin what confidence she can give the committee that she can deal with “this cabal”.

Martin says after meeting with the board on Friday, “I’ve confidence that we can find a path forward… I have confidence in in the reforms that are taking place.”

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Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan returns to the Prime Time interview. He tells Martin that she was “very forthcoming” with the answer when she was asked about the role of the board in the oversight of exit packages. 

“It didn’t have to be dragged out of you. Would that be fair?”

Martin says: “I was trying to be as open and as transparent as possible in relation to this.”

O’Sullivan asks if she agreed a wording of the question that Miriam O’Callaghan put to her last Thursday night.

Martin says she was “in getting makeup on”, and believes that the only discussion was in relation to flagging that “an issue is probably about to break in relation to the board and I’m willing to address that if needs be”. 

Asked if she regrets being honest, she says: “If I hadn’t been, I would have been accused of the opposite.”

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Catherine Martin tells Christopher O’Sullivan that former RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh was “unwilling” to receive a letter and she didn’t feel a meeting was necessary, after new information emerged regarding the role of the board.

“She was indicating she might resign if I sent a letter,” she says, adding that she was hopeful Ní Raghallaigh would change her mind. 

Martin says that an email was then sent requesting a meeting, but that was not accepted before the Minister appeared on Prime Time.

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Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick refers to Martin’s opening statement, in which she referred to Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s “hard work” and “commitment”.

“To me, that’s someone you have a lot of respect for. To me, it seems like you’ve thrown her under the bus or you’ve made her a scapegoat.”

He asked that if Prime Time was on this Thursday night, would Martin have said the same thing about Ní Raghallaigh.

Martin says it’s important to tell the truth. “I put all that in the statement because I absolutely believe it… there’s no dispute over that. I do not believe this was intentional.

“But if a chair is asked a question on a number of occasions and they can’t be sure of the answer… unfortunately, no matter how genuine and hard-working that individual is, the problem is as Minister, I’m not getting the accurate information.”

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Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne returns to the topic of Siún Ní Raghallaigh indicating that she might resign if she received a letter from Martin. 

“Is that not effectively the case then, Minister, that the chair had basically said ‘I am going to resign’?”

Martin says she was hoping that it was just a “rash comment”. 

“I couldn’t understand how someone would try and tell the minister how to manage their work.”

Byrne asks what the point was of having a meeting on the Friday morning if Ní Raghallaigh had already indicated she was going to resign.

“It was so astounding. I couldn’t believe that anyone would just refuse to meet,” Martin says.

“If it’s so astounding, would you not just say this is it? This is the end of the relationship?”

Martin says she wanted to afford an opportunity to meet because “she was genuine, hardworking and committed”. 

Catherine Martin also tells Malcolm Byrne that she hopes to appoint a full-time chair. “We’re active on that, in consultation with a senior members of cabinet.”

In relation to the future funding model of RTÉ, Martin says she is waiting for the reports from the Expert Advisory Committees, which are due in MArch. 

“I want to move as soon as possible and I’ve always said that that should be done before the summer.”

Pressed on if a paper on a new funding model could be presented to Cabinet in April or May, she says she hopes that will be the case. 

Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin asks Catherine Martin if she has ever “picked up the phone” to Siún Ní Raghallaigh. Martin says she has. 

Asked why she could not do this last week, Martin reiterates that she felt the matter required a face-to-face meeting.

She also tells Griffin that while she had been advised that other journalists were in possession of the story about Ní Raghallaigh having misled her before she appeared on Prime Time, RTÉ were not. 

“I was aware that it was about to break. I felt I had to be open on the sensitivity of the situation,” she says. 

Our Political Correspondent Jane Matthews has more on the Minister’s revelation that Siún Ní Raghallaigh had indicated she may resign if she received a letter from Catherine Martin. 

You can read it here.

Catherine Martin tells Brendan Griffin that she has had no contact with Siún Ní Raghallaigh since last Thursday.

When asked if she expects to have contact with her in future, she says: “I don’t imagine so, no.”

Catherine Martin is giving a timeline of last Thursday to Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú. 

She tells him that she would have expressed her “disappointment” in a letter to Siún Ní Raghallaigh.

She says this was communicated to Ní Raghallaigh by phone at around 2pm/2.30pm, during which she would have mentioned the role of directors in approving the exit package for Richard Collins last October. 

“She was stating that she felt if if I wrote a letter saying I was disappointed, that she would see that as a lack of confidence and she’d have to consider her position,” she says. 

She says the Secretary General rang Siún Ní Raghallaigh at 6.45pm to say that the Minister will send a letter, and will also invite her to meet the next day.

The Secretary General also told Ní Raghallaigh that the Minister was going on Prime Time and indicated that, if asked, ”it’s not a thing I could conceal if I’d been given the wrong information”. The letter was sent at 7.30pm. 

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Catherine Martin tells Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould that she was “still hopeful” that Siún Ní Raghallaigh would agree to meet with her last Friday morning, despite the former chair indicating to her that she would resign if she received a letter from the Minister. 

“I think it’s quiet unprecedented if a chair of a state body would refuge to meet a minister,” she says.

“I was trying to keep the door open by not saying I had no confidence.”

Gould says that she knew on Thursday evening that if she sent a letter, Ní Raghallaigh was going to resign. 

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould summing up the events of last Thursday quite succinctly. 

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Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley asks Catherine Martin: “Why did you think you had a duty to leak the information to RTÉ? Some other journalists had a scoop.

“There is an expectation that if someone asks you a question, you don’t run to some other journalist and provide them with the information. That’s an ethic that exists in journalistic circles.”

Martin says that was not the motivation “in any shape or form.”

Timmy Dooley refers to Martin saying that she has confidence in the RTÉ Board. 

Referring to Toy Show The Musical, he asks: “You have confidence in a group of people that told us here that they didn’t do their job to the best of their ability?”

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Media Committee chair Niamh Smyth is now addressing Catherine Martin before the sessions wraps up.

She asks Martin if she has asked if former Director General Dee Forbes received an exit package. 

Martin says her term would have come to an end when she resigned.

When pressed further, Martin says Kevin Bakhurst has informed her that Dee Forbes has not received an exit package.

Senator Micheál Carrigy tells Catherine Martin that he thinks she was correct to send the letter to Siún Ní Raghallaigh, despite her indicating that she might resign if she received a letter.

“I don’t think any chair should refuse to meet a minister under such circumstances, and I think if the chair hadn’t resigned on Friday morning, and had refused to meet the minister, I think they should have been removed from the position.”

Fine Gael TD Alan Dillon tells Martin that the terms of reference of the remuneration committee were received on 30 November.

“It took until last week, almost three months later, to start asking questions, is that correct?”

Martin says the terms were not sent correctly in the first place, but were part of an “RTÉ Code of Practice checklist” in a folder among 19 other documents.

She says there was nothing about the new terms of reference or when they came into effect, and the Department was not of the opinion that when we received them two months later, that they were already in effect.

“They were never properly communicated to me.”

Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin puts it to Martin that RTÉ’s then-Director of Legal Paula Mullooly told the Public Accounts Committee on 12 October last year that the terms of reference were ratified on 26 September. 

Griffin says Department of Media officials were present at that meeting and asks Martin whether they informed her that the new terms of reference were in place. 

Martin says she saw the reports that it was “explicitly told” to the officials during the meeting, but argues that the Deputy who asked the question didn’t see any significance to the statement.

“It was in passing and the language was in the future tense… It certainly wasn’t clear.”

Asked by Griffin whether she accepts that she were misinformed by her own officials, Martin says she hadn’t received the documents.

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Media Committee chair Niamh Smyth also asked Catherine Martin about David Nally, a former RTÉ Executive. 

Smyth says it is her understanding that there was an investigation into complaints made against Nally, and that the cost of the investigation could have amounted to a six-figure sum. 

She asks Martin if she has questioned Director General Kevin Bakhurst about the cost of the investigation and whether she has any detail about an exit package for him.

Martin says that information hasn’t been brought to her, and later clarifies that she did ask about the case last week, but was told that she could not be given any details due to legal reasons. 

“Unfortunately, the legal advice is clear and I’m bound by that just as much as you are.” 

Smyth says this is somebody ”who has had complaints made against them… They’re still in harm’s way of staff if you ask me when a complaint has been upheld”. 

She says he has “wreaked havoc within the organisation, that had a huge price tag to RTÉ if my information is correct in terms of investigating the actual complaint that was made against them.

“They’re moved sideways, put into a new role, a role that didn’t exist before, and not only that, they exit after 18 months on a package. It’s la la land stuff.”

Martin says this is another reason why former Director General Dee Forbes should come before the committee to “shed light on what exactly happened there”. 

Last July, Nally wrote a letter to the Irish Times defending his time at RTÉ, saying in his 15 years in the job he had only attracted one complaint from a staff member.

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After more than three hours of questioning, Catherine Martin finishes by thanking Siún Ní Raghallaigh for her tenure as chair. 

“It was never my intention for this to emerge on air,” she says. “I was trying to afford her the opportunity to come in and meet me face-to-face.

“To be indicating you wouldn’t meet the minister as a chair of a state body, I just couldn’t believe that that would happen.”

She reiterated that she does not believe Ní Raghallaigh intentionally gave her inaccurate information.

“If I was to end on anything, it’s again, to put on record my genuine thanks for the chair in the work that she did, in her commitment,” she says.

“We need to move forward, and I’m determined to do that as Minister, with the DG, with the board, and of course, the crucial role of Government in taking this decision before the summer.”

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