Amendments to the Constitution of Ireland

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An amendment may be made to any part of the Constitution of Ireland but only by referendum. An amendment must first be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament), then submitted to a referendum, and finally signed into law by the President.

Aside from constitutional referendums, the constitution also provides for a referendum on an ordinary bill, known as the ordinary referendum, but there has not been one so far.



The procedure for amending the constitution is specified in Article 46. A proposed amendment must take the form of a bill to amend the constitution originating in Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Oireachtas). It must first be formally approved by both the Dáil and the Senate, though in practice the Senate has only the power to delay an amendment adopted by the Dáil.

Then the amendment must be endorsed by the electorate in a referendum.[1] A simple majority is sufficient to carry an amendment and there is no minimum turnout required for a constitutional referendum to be considered valid. The vote occurs by secret ballot. A proposal to amend the constitution put to a referendum must not contain any other proposal. While United Kingdom citizens resident in the state may vote in a general election, only Irish citizens can participate in a referendum.

After being approved by referendum an amendment must be signed into law by the President. Provided that the correct procedure has been complied with, the President cannot veto an amendment. The dates given for the amendments listed in this article are, unless otherwise stated, the dates on which they were signed into law.

Transitional and Conditional Amendments

The Nineteenth Amendment, passed in May 1998, introduced a novel method of amendment. Its provisions allowed the later amendment to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in 1999. The Nineteenth Amendment did not itself amend those articles, but rather introduced a temporary special mechanism by which the Government could order their amendment once it was satisfied that certain commitments made by other parties to the Good Friday Agreement had been complied with. The sections added to the text of the Constitution which provided for this later amendment to Articles no longer appear in the published official text of the Constitution, in line with their own provisions.

A similar method would have been used with the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002 to restrict abortion, which was rejected. The proposed Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2013 to abolish Seanad Éireann involved later amendments which would have taken effect after the next general election.

The Thirty-third Amendment that established the Court of Appeal had amendments which became part of the text only on the later establishment of the Court, and transitory provisions which would not appear in later printed official versions.[2]

Historical methods

As a transitional measure, for the first three years after the election of the first President of Ireland a bill to amend the Constitution could be passed by the Oireachtas as an ordinary act. An amendment bill before the election of the first President (on 25 June 1938) would have required a referendum. To prevent the Oireachtas abusing this provision, the President had the power to refer such a bill to the people. The First and Second Amendments were adopted in this way; President Douglas Hyde chose to sign each into law without referendum. The three-year limit was entrenched to prevent it being extended without referendum. Since 25 June 1941, the third anniversary of President Hyde's election, every amendment has had to follow the pattern of passage through the Oireachtas followed by a referendum.

List of amendments and referendums

The following table lists all amendments to the Constitution, and all past referendums relating to the Constitution. In general it does not list proposed amendments which failed to be passed by the Oireachtas, for which see the separate list of failed amendments to the Constitution of Ireland. The exception is the 2001 Twenty-second Amendment Bill, listed below to explain the gap in the numbering of subsequent amendments.

Table of amendments referendums relating to the Constitution of Ireland
Proposal Enactment date Subject Referendum date Electorate Total poll (%)[fn 1] For (%)[fn 2] Against (%)[fn 2] Spoilt (%)[fn 3] Ref
Draft Constitution 1 July 1937[fn 4] Enactment of the Constitution 1 July 1937 1,775,055 1,346,207 75.8 685,105 56.5 526,945 43.5 134,157 10.0 [3][4]
The draft Constitution was not technically a bill, but had been passed by the Oireachtas in the same manner as a bill.
1st Amendment 2 September 1939 Definition of war N/A[fn 5] [3]
Extended the definition of "time of war" to include a war in which the state is not a participant. This was to allow the Government to exercise emergency powers during the Second World War, in which the state was neutral.
2nd Amendment 30 May 1941 Textual adjustments N/A[fn 5] [3]
An omnibus bill with a variety of mostly minor textual amendments. Some changes were only to the Irish text, to correspond more closely to the sense of the English text.
3rd Amendment Bill N/A Elections: Dáil: voting system 17 June 1959 1,678,450 979,531 58.4 453,322 48.2 486,989 51.8 39,220 4.0 [4]
Proposal to alter the voting system for elections to Dáil Éireann from the multi-member single transferable vote (STV) to the single-member First Past the Post (FPTP) system. It also proposed to establish an independent commission for boundary delimitation of Dáil constituencies.
3rd Amendment Bill N/A Elections: Dáil: constituency boundaries 16 October 1968 1,717,389 1,129,477 65.8 424,185 39.2 656,803 60.8 48,489 4.3 [4]
Proposed to allow greater malapportionment in favour of rural areas in boundary delimitation of Dáil constituencies.
4th Amendment Bill N/A Elections: Dáil: voting system 16 October 1968 1,717,389 1,129,606 65.8 423,496 39.2 657,898 60.8 48,212 4.3 [4]
Another proposal to alter the Dáil voting system from STV to FPTP.
3rd Amendment 8 June 1972 Treaty: Europe: Accession 10 May 1972 1,783,604 1,264,278 70.9 1,041,890 83.1 211,891 16.9 10,497 0.8 [3][4]
Permitted the state to join the European Communities.
4th Amendment 5 January 1973 Elections: franchise: voting age 7 December 1972 1,783,604 903,439 50.7 724,836 84.6 131,514 15.4 47,089 5.2 [3][4]
Reduced the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.
5th Amendment 5 January 1973 Recognition of religions 7 December 1972 1,783,604 903,659 50.7 721,003 84.4 133,430 15.6 49,326 5.5 [3][4]
Removed reference to "special position" of the Roman Catholic Church and to other named denominations.[3]
6th Amendment 3 August 1979 Adoption board 5 July 1979 2,179,466 623,476 28.6 601,694 99.0 6,265 1.0 15,517 2.5 [3][4]
To reverse a 1977 finding that certain orders made by the adoption board were unconstitutional.
7th Amendment 3 August 1979 Seanad: university constituencies 5 July 1979 2,179,466 622,646 28.6 552,600 92.4 45,484 7.6 24,562 3.9 [3][4]
Allowed the Seanad representation of the University of Dublin and the National University of Ireland to be extended to graduates of other third-level institutions. This provision has never been invoked.
8th Amendment 7 October 1983 Abortion: recognised the right to life of the unborn 7 September 1983 2,358,651 1,265,994 53.7 841,233 66.9 416,136 33.1 8,625 0.7 [3][4]
Intended to entrench the statutory prohibition of abortion at a Constitutional level.
9th Amendment 2 August 1984 Elections: franchise: votes for non-citizens 14 June 1984 2,399,257 1,138,895 47.5 828,483 75.4 270,250 24.6 40,162 3.5 [3][4]
Overturned a 1983 Supreme Court decision that prevented the right to vote in Dáil elections being extended to UK nationals.
10th Amendment Bill N/A Rights: Divorce 26 June 1986 2,436,836 1,482,644 60.8 538,279 36.5 935,843 63.5 8,522 0.6 [4]
Proposed to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. The ban was eventually lifted by the Fifteenth Amendment in 1996.
10th Amendment 22 June 1987 Treaty: Europe: Single European Act 26 May 1987 2,461,790 1,085,304 44.1 755,423 69.9 324,977 30.1 4,904 0.5 [3][4]
Permitted the state to ratify the Single European Act.
11th Amendment 16 July 1992 Treaty: Europe: Maastricht Treaty 18 June 1992 2,542,841 1,457,219 57.3 1,001,076 69.1 448,655 30.9 7,488 0.5 [3][4]
Permitted the state to ratify the Maastricht Treaty.
12th Amendment Bill N/A Abortion: exclusion of suicide 25 November 1992 2,542,841 1,733,309 68.2 572,177 34.6 1,079,297 65.4 81,835 4.7 [4]
Proposed to partially reverse the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the X Case, which allowed abortion where a pregnancy is life-threatening, by excluding risk of suicide as permissible grounds.
13th Amendment 23 December 1992 Abortion: right to travel 25 November 1992 2,542,841 1,733,821 68.2 1,035,308 62.4 624,059 37.6 74,454 4.3 [3][4]
Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state.
14th Amendment 23 December 1992 Abortion: right to information 25 November 1992 2,542,841 1,732,433 68.1 992,833 59.9 665,106 40.1 74,494 4.3 [3][4]
Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries.
15th Amendment 17 June 1996 Rights: Divorce 24 November 1995 2,628,834 1,633,942 62.2 818,842 50.3 809,728 49.7 5,372 0.3 [3][4]
Removed the constitutional prohibition of divorce, but retained certain restrictions on its occurrence.
16th Amendment 12 December 1996 Rights: bail restrictions 28 November 1996 2,659,895 777,586 29.2 579,740 74.8 194,968 25.2 2,878 0.4 [3][4]
To reverse a 1965 Supreme Court ruling by allowed a court to refuse someone bail if it suspected a person would commit a serious criminal offence while at liberty.
17th Amendment 14 November 1997 Cabinet confidentiality 30 October 1997 2,688,316 1,268,043 47.2 632,777 52.6 569,175 47.4 66,091 5.2 [3][4]
To reverse a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that meetings of the cabinet were absolutely confidential, and to permit the High Court to order the disclosure of cabinet discussions in certain circumstances.
18th Amendment 3 June 1998 Treaty: Europe: Amsterdam Treaty 22 May 1998 2,747,088 1,543,930 56.2 932,632 61.7 578,070 38.3 33,228 2.2 [3][4]
Allowed the state to ratify the Amsterdam Treaty.
19th Amendment 3 June 1998 / 2 December 1999 [fn 6] Treaty: Good Friday Agreement 22 May 1998 2,747,088 1,545,395 56.3 1,442,583 94.4 85,728 5.6 17,064 1.1 [3][4]
Allowed the state to be bound by the Good Friday Agreement and provided for the conditional amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which subsequently came into effect when the Good Friday Agreement did.
20th Amendment 23 June 1999 Elections: Local government 11 June 1999 2,791,415 1,425,881 51.1 1,024,850 77.8 291,965 22.2 109,066 7.6 [3][4]
Provided that local government elections must occur every five years.
21st Amendment 27 March 2002 Rights: Death penalty 7 June 2001 2,867,960 997,885 34.8 610,455 62.1 372,950 37.9 14,480 1.5 [3][4]
Entrenched the existing statutory prohibition of capital punishment.
22nd Amendment Bill N/A Courts: judges: discipline N/A [6]
Proposed to establish a body for the investigation of judges and to amend the procedure for the removal of judges. It was introduced to the Oireachtas but lapsed after its second stage.
23rd Amendment 27 March 2002 Treaty: Rome Statute of the ICC 7 June 2001 2,867,960 997,565 34.8 629,234 64.2 350,512 35.8 17,819 1.8 [3][4]
Allowed the state to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court.
24th Amendment Bill N/A Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Nice 7 June 2001 2,867,960 997,826 34.8 453,461 46.1 529,478 53.9 14,887 1.5 [4]
This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Nice. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-sixth Amendment in 2002.
25th Amendment Bill N/A Abortion: exclusion of suicide 6 March 2002 2,923,918 1,254,175 42.9 618,485 49.6 629,041 50.4 6,649 0.5 [4]
This was a second attempt to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion and to prevent risk of suicide being invoked as grounds for an abortion.
26th Amendment 7 November 2002 Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Nice 19 October 2002 2,923,918 1,446,588 49.5 906,317 62.9 534,887 37.1 5,384 0.4 [3][4]
Allowed the state to ratify the Nice Treaty.
27th Amendment 24 June 2004 Irish nationality 11 June 2004 3,041,688 1,823,434 59.9 1,427,520 79.2 375,695 20.8 20,219 1.1 [3][4]
Abolished constitutional jus soli right to Irish nationality.
28th Amendment Bill N/A Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Lisbon 12 June 2008 3,051,278 1,621,037 53.1 752,451 46.6 862,415 53.4 6,171 0.4 [4]
This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-eighth Amendment in 2009.
28th Amendment 15 October 2009 Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Lisbon 2 October 2009 3,078,032 1,816,098 58.0 1,214,268 67.1 594,606 32.9 7,224 0.4 [3][4]
Allowed the state to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.
29th Amendment 17 November 2011 Courts: judges: remuneration 27 October 2011 3,191,157 1,785,707 55.9 1,393,877 79.7 354,134 20.3 37,696 2.1 [3][4]
Relaxed the prohibition on the reduction of the salaries of Irish judges.
30th Amendment Bill N/A Oireachtas inquiries 27 October 2011 3,191,157 1,785,208 55.9 812,008 46.7 928,175 53.3 45,025 2.5 [4]
Proposed to reverse a 2002 Supreme Court ruling which prevented Oireachtas inquiries from making findings critical of individuals.
30th Amendment 27 June 2012 Treaty: Europe: European Fiscal Compact 31 May 2012 3,144,828 1,591,385 50.6 955,091 60.3 629,088 39.7 45,025 2.8 [3][4]
Allowed the state to ratify the European Fiscal Compact.
31st Amendment 28 April 2015[7] Rights: Children 10 November 2012 3,183,686 1,066,239 33.5 615,731 58.0 445,863 42.0 7,206 0.7 [4]
A general statement of children's rights, and a provision intended to secure the power of the state to take children into care who are at risk of abuse or neglect from their parents.
32nd Amendment Bill N/A Seanad: abolition 4 October 2013 3,167,484 1,240,729 39.2 591,937 48.3 634,437 51.7 14,355 1.2 [8]
Proposed to abolish Seanad Éireann.
33rd Amendment 1 November 2013 Courts: new Court of Appeal 4 October 2013 3,167,484 1,240,135 39.2 795,008 65.2 425,047 34.8 20,080 1.6 [8][9]
Mandates a new Court of Appeal above the High Court and below the Supreme Court
34th Amendment 29 August 2015 Rights: Same-sex marriage 22 May 2015[10] 3,221,681 1,949,725 60.5 1,201,607 62.1 734,300 37.9 13,818 0.7 [11] [12]
Prohibits restriction on civil marriage based on sex. (Civil partnership had been established under a a 2010 statute.)
35th Amendment Bill N/A Presidency: reduce age of candidacy to 21. 22 May 2015[10] 3,221,681 1,949,438 60.5 520,898 26.9 1,412,602 73.1 15,938 0.8 [13][14]
Proposed to lower the minimum age for the presidency from 35 to 21.
  1. Total poll as a percentage of the electorate
  2. 1 2 As a percentage of the valid poll (total poll less spoilt votes)
  3. Spoilt votes as a percentage of the total poll.
  4. The Constitution was enacted by the plebiscite approving it.[3] There was no formal signing into law. It came into force 180 days after the plebiscite, on 29 December 1937.[3]
  5. 1 2 The first two amendment acts were passed during the three-year transitional period when a referendum was not required.
  6. The first date is that of the Act making the initial amendment; the second is that of the government announcement triggering the subsequent amendment.[5]

Referendums affecting court decisions

Rights of defendants and trial rights

In People (AG) v. O'Callaghan (1966), the Supreme Court held that the right to liberty would permit the denial of bail in limited circumstances only, where there was sufficient evidence before the Court that the accused was likely to interfere with the course of justice; specifically, that bail could not be because of the likelihood of the commission of further offences while on bail.[15] This decision was overturned by the Sixteenth Amendment in 1996 which inserted Article 40.4.7º, allowing for the refusal of bail by a court to a person charged with a serious offence where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. The Amendment was passed by 75% to 25%.

In Maguire v. Ardagh (2002), the Supreme Court held that Oireachtas Inquiries did not have the power to compel witnesses to attend and to make findings against them.[16] The Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2011 proposed to allow Oireachtas Inquiries to make findings of fact and to balance the rights of the individual against the public interest; this referendum was defeated by 53% to 47%.

Electoral matters

In O'Donovan v. the Attorney-General (1961), the Supreme Court held that the Electoral Amendment Act 1959 was unconstitutional and suggested that the ratio of representation to population across constituencies should differ by no more than 5%. The Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968 would have allowed a variation of up to 16.7% across constituencies. It was rejected in a referendum by 61% to 39%.

In Re Article 26 and the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 1983 (1984), the Supreme Court held that the proposed bill to extend voting rights in Dáil elections to British citizens was unconstitutional. The Ninth Amendment was passed in June 1984, which allowed the franchise to be extended beyond Irish citizens.

International Sovereignty

The Third Amendment, passed in 1972, allowed Ireland to accede to the European Communities. In 1986, the government signed the Single European Act (SEA). However, Raymond Crotty sought an injunction against ratification by the state. In Crotty v. An Taoiseach (1987), the Supreme Court held that the further transfer of powers from the state to the European institutions within the SEA was not "necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities" as provided for by the Third Amendment. Consequently, the Constitution required further amendment, before the SEA could be ratified. This was done in a referendum later in 1987. On the same basis, further referendums on European Treaties were held on the Maastricht Treaty (in 1992), on the Amsterdam Treaty (in 1998), on the Nice Treaty (in 2001 and in 2002), and on the Lisbon Treaty (in 2008 and in 2009). Referendums were also held for the allow the state to be bound by the Belfast Agreement in 1998, and to ratify the International Criminal Court in 2001 and the Stability Treaty in 2012.


In McGee v. The Attorney General (1974), the Supreme Court found that provisions of Articles 40 and 41 guaranteed a right to marital privacy, and that contraception on prescription could not be prohibited to a married couple. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the United States Supreme Court come a similar result, before finding for a general right to abortion in the first trimester in Roe v. Wade (1973). The Eighth Amendment in 1983 gave constitutional protection to the life of the unborn, and therefore prohibiting abortion. This had been partly to guard against the Supreme Court finding the same right that their American counterparts had.

In March 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in Attorney General v. X, commonly known as the "X Case", that a teenage girl was entitled to an abortion as there was a risk to her life from suicide. Opponents of abortion feared that this ruling could only be enforced in a way that would lead to an expansive abortion regime of the kind found in many other countries. There were two failed amendments that would have excluded suicide as grounds for abortion, the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1992 and the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 made provisions for the finding of the court in the X Case, allowing abortion where the life of the woman was at risk, including a risk of suicide.

The Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1992, to guarantee a right to travel. This addressed the injunction which the High Court had granted in the X Case to order the return of the girl to the country. Though the injunction was lifted by the Supreme Court, a majority of the Court had found that were it not for the risk to life of the defendant, an injunction would have been maintained.

The Fourteenth Amendment was passed on the same day in 1992, to guarantee that the ban on abortion would not limit freedom to obtain or make available information relating to services lawfully available in another state. This was in response to two cases: Attorney General (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Ireland) Ltd.) v Open Door Counselling Ltd. and Dublin Wellwoman Centre Ltd. (1988), which granted an injunction restraining two counseling agencies from assisting women to travel abroad to obtain abortions or informing them of the methods of communications with such clinics, and Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Ireland) Ltd. v Grogan (1989), which placed an injunction restraining three students' unions from distributing information in relation to abortion available outside the state.

Proposed changes

The Programme for Government agreed by the government formed in May 2011 specified proposed referendums on

The Programme for Government also proposed a Citizens' Assembly, which among other matters would consider the Eighth Amendment, which protects the life of the unborn.[17]

Previous reform bodies

From 1997 to 2011, an All-Party Oireachtas Committee systematically reviewed the constitution, and in its first ten years published a series of ten progress reports and two pieces of commissioned research. In the 30th Dáil it published a further 5 reports (see Constitutional Reviews).

The government elected in March 2011 established a Constitutional Convention to consider a range of specific issues. Of the proposals from the convention, only two were put to a referendum: introduction of marriage equality, which passed, and lowering the age of eligibility to the presidency, which failed.

Amendments to previous constitutions

Ireland had two previous Constitutions, prior to the adoption of the Constitution of Ireland: the Dáil Constitution of the short-lived 1919–1922 Irish Republic, and the constitution of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State. Each used different formal procedures for amendment of the text.

The Dáil Constitution was enacted by Dáil Éireann (which was at that time a single chamber legislature) as an ordinary act of parliament. As a result it could be amended by simple vote of the legislature.

The Constitution of the Irish Free State was adopted in October 1922 and in force on 6 December 1922. It originally provided for a process of amendment by means of a referendum. However the constitution could initially be amended by the Oireachtas for eight years. The Oireachtas chose to extend that period, meaning that for the duration of its existence, the Free State constitution could be amended at will by parliament. In theory, it was argued that the constitution could not be amended in a way with conflicted with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 ratified by both the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. However the Statute of Westminster removed that restriction in the 1930s. It was amended 24 times between 1925 and 1936.

See also

External links


  1. "Amending The Constitution". The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  2. Butler, Graham (August 2015). "The Road to a Court of Appeal—Part II: Distinguishing Features and Establishment". Irish Law Times. Retrieved 31 August 2015. Article 34A.4 specified that that all references to the Article 34A would be deleted once the Court of Appeal was established, whilst Article 64 would be removed one year after the court’s establishment date.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 "CONSTITUTION OF IRELAND". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 7 August 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 "Referendum Results 1937 – 2015" (PDF). Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. 2015.
  5. "British-Irish Agreement: Announcement.". Dáil Éireann debates. 2 December 1999. pp. Vol.512 No.2 p.3 cc.337–340. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  6. "Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 (No. 17 of 2001)". Bills 1992 - 2013. Oireachtas. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  7. Thirty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland Act signed by President Higgins on 28 April 2015:
  8. 1 2 "Thirty-Second Amendment of the Constitution (Seanad Abolition) Bill 2013". Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  9. "Legislation Signed by President Higgins". Dublin: Office of the President. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  10. 1 2 ",41052,en.htm". Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. 2 April 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015. External link in |title= (help)
  11. "Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 (Number 5 of 2015)". Bills. Oireachtas. 2015. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  13. "Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015 (Number 6 of 2015)". Bills. Oireachtas. 2015. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  14. "Results received at the Central Count Centre for the referendum on the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015.". Ireland: Referendum Returning Officer. 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  15. "People (at the suit of the Attorney General) v. O'Callaghan", Irish Reports, 1: 501, 1966
  16. "Maguire v. Ardagh", Irish Reports, 1: 385, 2002
  17. A Programme for a Partnership Government (PDF)
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