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2008/09 News

06/08/2009: School secures prestigious Fellowships

Seaneen Sloan and Kareena McAloney, both researchers at the Institute of Child Care Research, have secured Cochrane Fellowships from the Northern Ireland HSC Research and Development Office to conduct two systematic reviews in areas relevant to health and social care in Northern Ireland.  Seaneen Sloan will conducting a systematic review of research into the effectiveness of parent-training intervention in school-aged children with autistic spectrum disorders.  Seaneen will be collaborating with Dr Morris Zwi (Consultant Child Psychiatrist, Richmond Royal Hospital, London).  This review will focus on interventions that help parents of autistic children to establish appropriate management strategies, that can increase social communication skills for the child, and help prevent the development of secondary behavioural problems. 

Kareena's review will be examining the effectiveness of youth conferencing in juvenile justice. Kareena will be collaborating on this review with Professor Geraldine Macdonald.

Further information on the nature of systematic reviews can be obtained from the Cochrane Collaboration website. The review will be undertaken as part of the Cochrane Developmental, Psychosocial and Learning Problems Group, under the supervision of Professor Geraldine Macdonald (Queen's University) who is Co-ordinating Editor of the Group.

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08/07/2009: School Graduation Celebrations
Head of School, Prof Mike Tomlinson, Prof Liam O’Dowd, and Dr Greg Kelly, with the prize winners
Head of School, Prof Mike Tomlinson, Prof Liam O’Dowd, and Dr Greg Kelly, with the prize winners

The School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work summer graduation ceremony took place on Tuesday 7th July, with almost 250 degrees being awarded, including 10 PhDs. Following the formal ceremony in the Whitla Hall, the School invited all its graduates to the annual summer graduation reception in 6 College Park. Providing the opportunity for students and their families to celebrate their achievements with School staff, the reception was also used to present prizes to award winners in the School.

The Lockheed Prize is awarded to the highest performing students on the School BA degrees annually. This year’s recipients were:

Claire Anderson               
Vilma Bisson
Marc Mallon
Emma McFarland
Jane Woods

The Brian Rankin Prize is awarded each year to the best performing students on the Bachelor of Social Work degree, with the highest performing final year student receiving the Brian Rankin medal. This year’s recipients were:

Melanie Snoddon (Brian Rankin Medal)
Gillian Cordner
Lorraine Gordon
Noreen McAlerney
Laura Craig.

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30/06/2009: Queen’s study confirms teenagers are experimenting with cocaine

A study by Queen’s University Belfast has confirmed that some Northern Ireland teenagers are experimenting with cocaine.

Research conducted by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work has found that 7.5% of young people who took part in the Belfast Youth Development Survey had tried cocaine at least once by the age of 16.

The survey involves 4,000 teenagers in 43 schools in Northern Ireland, who have taken part in the study each year since entering post-primary education. Funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland, it is one of the largest schools-based surveys of its kind in the UK or Ireland.

Dr Patrick McCrystal, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute or Child Care Research, said: "A small number of those who took part in the survey told us they had tried cocaine at least once. Of those who had taken cocaine, only one in ten used it on a weekly basis. This indicates that while some teenagers have experimented with the drug, few continue to use it regularly.

“While cocaine has only recently emerged on to the Northern Ireland drug scene, this study suggests that it may be making its way into the adolescent drug scene quite quickly. It also indicates that the profile of cocaine users may be changing.

“In the 1990’s the typical cocaine user was single, in their twenties, well-educated, and in a well-paid professional job. In this study, however, more than half of those who had experimented with the drug were females, and one third had experienced social deprivation. They were more likely to live within a disrupted family with just one parent, have poor levels of communication with parents or guardians, and have low levels of motivation to do well at school. Most of those who had taken cocaine also regularly got drunk, smoked tobacco daily, and used cannabis on a weekly basis. Two thirds had also used inhalants.

“This study shows that young people are able to get hold of cocaine for their own personal use. Oder friends were the most popular source for obtaining the drug, followed by a dealer and friends of the same age. When we began this study, outside in the street or at a party were the most popular places for taking cocaine. By the end of the study period the most common place was at a friend’s house, where just under half of those who had taken cocaine reported doing so.

“These findings highlight the need to educate young people about the risks and health and social implications of cocaine use while they are still in compulsory education and under the age of 16. Children and young people must be empowered to refuse an offer of drugs. If and when the opportunity to experiment with cocaine presents itself, they must be well-equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions on drug use.

“The study also highlights the need for a well-planned strategy to monitor trends of illicit drug use among young people, to help inform policy to deal with its impact. If the age of first use of cocaine is becoming younger, or the levels of cocaine use are increasing, the number of users who are likely to develop problems and place demands on drug treatment centres will increase in the future. This is something that health, social care, and education policy makers should take note of."

Dr McCrystal’s research paper, A Profile of Adolescent Cocaine Use in Northern Ireland, has been published in The International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 20, Issue 4, July 2009) and can be found online at

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18/06/2009: 12 Full-time PhD Studentships in Interdisciplinary Childhood Research Available at Queen’s

As part of a major strategic investment by Queen’s into childhood research, the university is currently advertising 12 full-time PhD studentships. 6 of these are being provided through the Improving Children’s Lives research initiative and 6 through the Research Forum for the Child.

The 6 studentships associated with Improving Children’s Lives project are open to home and EU applicants. The studentships relate to specific projects that will be jointly supervised across various Schools within Queen’s. For more information on the initiative as well as on eligibility criteria, potential projects, guidance notes on how to apply and who to contact for informal enquiries please visit

The 6 studentships associated with the Research Forum for the Child are open to home, EU and international applicants. These studentships are open to any area of interdisciplinary research on childhood.  For more information on eligibility criteria, guidance notes on how to apply and who to contact for informal enquiries please visit

All of these studentships are available from October 2009, and cover University fees and a maintenance allowance of £13,290 per annum, for three years.

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02/06/2009: CAP research shows older people in Northern Ireland do not have appropriate access to legal advice
Joe Duffy and Dr Subhajit Basu (Law School) pictured at the launch of their CAP funded research on 4th June along with members of University of the Third Age and South Belfast Lifestyle Forum.
Joe Duffy and Dr Subhajit Basu (Law School) pictured at the launch of their CAP funded research on 4th June along with members of University of the Third Age and South Belfast Lifestyle Forum.

Research from the Changing Ageing Partnership (CAP) has found that older people in Northern Ireland have limited access to information about legal services. This is despite the fact that older people have a greater need for legal advice on issues such as substitute decisions, making wills, care agreements and matters relating to health.

The research is the first of its kind to explore the legal needs of older people. It was carried out for CAP by Dr Subhajit Basu from Queen’s School of Law, Mr Joe Duffy from the University’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work and Ms Helen Davey who was employed as research assistant for the study.

Joe Duffy said: ‘The legal system must accept that older people are often not getting the service they deserve, at a price that they can afford. This situation must change.

‘The research highlights the factors that prevent older people accessing legal information. They are generally reluctant to engage with the legal system and enforce their rights through the legal processes. They expressed distrust and scepticism towards lawyers and the legal system, particularly regarding the cost of legal services. Their reluctance to complain about the issues that affect them means older people often seek to manage problems on their own, rather than seeking expert guidance.’

The research makes a number of recommendations to help older people access important legal information. It recommends improved communication between health and social care professionals and the legal profession to raise awareness of older people’s legal needs, particularly during critical times in their lives, like following the diagnosis of an illness such as dementia.

Joe Duffy continued ‘It is also important that our future legal professionals are educated as to the needs of older people. Undergraduate legal education should therefore include a particular focus on the legal requirements of older members of our community, which should also see older people directly participating in the law curriculum.

‘We also recommend the development of an on-line service providing legal advice for older people, and the use of jargon-free language by the legal profession in all of its communication with older people.’

Dr Subhajit Basu said: ‘Not enough work is being done to increase older people’s awareness of the use of the internet as a legal tool. We need to therefore support older people by helping them develop the skills needed to access and use valuable online resources. However, social policy goals of empowering older people will be increasingly difficult to realise without the improvement in access to legal services more generally.’

The researchers, Dr Subhajit Basu , Mr Joe Duffy and Ms Helen Davey will present further findings and recommendations from the research at NICVA, 61 Duncairn Gardens, Belfast on Thursday 4 June at 1.15pm.

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15/05/2009: Queen’s and Lifestart offer free support to parents
Dr Helga Sneddon from Queen's, pictured here with her son Tom, is asking parents with a baby under the age of one year to take part in the Lifestart Study.
Dr Helga Sneddon from Queen's, pictured here with her son Tom, is asking parents with a baby under the age of one year to take part in the Lifestart Study.

Time is running out for parents to access the free advice and support on offer in a study being conducted by Queen’s University Belfast on behalf of the Lifestart Foundation.

Researchers are looking for parents with babies under 12 months to take part in one of the largest studies of families and parenting ever undertaken on the island of Ireland. 

The aim of the Lifestart Study is to evaluate the Lifestart Home Based Parenting Programme.  Those who participate will receive free feedback on their child’s development. Over 300 families have already signed up for the study. The researchers are particularly calling on parents in Derry, Dungiven, Enniskillen, Strabane, Limavady, Lifford, Letterkenny, Newtowncunningham, Inishowen, Donegal Town, Ballymunn (Dublin), Sligo, Offaly and Kildare to take part.

The study is being carried out jointly by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s and the University’s Centre for Effective Education. Dr Helga Sneddon from the Institute of Child Care Research said: "The Lifestart programme aims to support families, with children aged from birth to five, through the ups and downs of parenting by helping them learn and understand more about their child’s development on a month by month basis.

“Of the 500 families we are seeking to take part in this research, 250 of them will be entered into the Lifestart programme. This will allow us to find out more about their experiences of parenting compared to those who are not involved in the Lifestart programme.

“The Lifestart Study will evaluate how well the Lifestart Home Based Parenting Programme works for parents and children.  Rather than making assumptions about what we think parents need, we are giving them the opportunity to share directly with us their experiences and the type of support they find useful in their role as parents.

“Those families who volunteer to take part in The Lifestart Study will be visited by us in their homes during their child’s first year, again when the child is two, and finally when the child is five years old. Throughout this time, we will talk with mums and dads about their parenting experiences and be able to provide some useful free feedback to them on their child’s development.

“Participating in the study will help us improve early years parenting support and identify gaps in the services available to parents throughout Ireland.  Anyone who is interested in taking part should contact us for more information before the end of June. From Northern Ireland freephone 0800 0855031 or text 07870 509677, from the Republic of Ireland freephone 1800 818 688 or text 08583 48617; or email

Pauline McClenaghan, Executive Director of the Lifestart Foundation, said: "This evaluation is very important to Lifestart and to local parents. We believe that the Lifestart Programme is a very useful resource for parents in that it provides them with information and tools to support their child’s learning and development. We at Lifestart are delighted that our programme has been chosen for this study."

The Lifestart Study is funded by Lifestart with support from Atlantic Philanthropies.  Helga Sneddon is based at the Institute of Child Care Research within Queen’s and Sarah Miller is based in the Centre for Effective Education in the University’s School of Education.

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29/04/2009: Prize Winning Book

Queen’s sociologist Dr Sarah Moore has won the British Sociological Association Philip Abrams Memorial Prize for 2009. The Prize is for the best first and sole-authored book within the discipline of Sociology and was announced at the BSA’s Annual Conference held in Cardiff, 16-18th April. Sarah’s book is called, Ribbon Culture:  Charity, Compassion, and Public Awareness (Palgrave Macmillan).

On hearing the news, Professor Mike Tomlinson, Head of School, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that Sarah has won this prestigious prize. The originality of the research on which the book is based was picked up by Radio 4’s Thinking Aloud programme some time ago. We are proud that colleagues within the BSA have now acknowledged the book as an important contribution to understanding what is a very common practice – the wearing of ribbons.”

Since its emergence in 1991, the 'awareness' ribbon has achieved the kind of cultural status usually reserved for big brand icons and religious symbols; yet its meaningfulness as a symbol is often questioned by activists and media commentators. Certainly, 'showing awareness' is not as straightforward a social practice as it might at first seem. The ribbon is, for example, both a kitsch fashion accessory as well as an emblem that expresses empathy; it is a symbol that represents awareness, yet requires no knowledge of the cause it represents; it appears to signal concern for others, but in fact prioritises self-expression. Ribbon Culture explores ambiguities surrounding these ribbons, the nature of contemporary mourning practices, the sociology of compassion, the marketing discourses of charities and the relationship between awareness and consumerism.

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26/02/2009: Prof Mary Daly to address a Council of Europe Conference of Ministers in Moscow
Professor Mary Daly will address a Council of Europe conference of Ministers responsible for social cohesion in Moscow today. She will share the platform with the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.  Professor Daly chaired a Council of Europe High-Level Task Force on Social Cohesion which published its report, entitled Towards and Active Fair and Socially Cohesive Europe,  in January 2008. Professor Daly said, "the problems surrounding the achievement of greater social cohesion are brought into sharp focus by today's recessionary economic climate. Our report contains many recommendations but at the core of report are four priority objectives across the domains of employment, social protection, health and care, education/training, housing/environment and migration:
  1. Reinvesting in social rights and in cohesive societies
  2. Building a society of responsibilities that are both shared and social
  3. Strengthening mechanisms of representation and democratic decision-making and expanding social and civic dialogue and engagement
  4. Responding to demographic change and multiculturalism by building confidence in a common and secure future for all.
Economic recession does not alter these priorities but it does make them more pressing and challenging. What we need is a 'transversal approach' to policy by which social cohesion is secured not just by the content or orientation of policies but also by the method of working. Social cohesion needs to be a cross-cutting concern of intergovernmental committees and other high-level bodies right across Europe."

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18/02/2009: School Hosts All-Ireland Social Work Research & Education Forum
Photo of participants in the All-Ireland Social Work Forum at Queens in February 2009
Participants in the All-Ireland Social Work Forum Feb 2009
The School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work hosted an All-Ireland Social Work Research & Education Forum on the 5th and 6th February 2009. This was the first time that the Forum was held in Northern Ireland and succeeded in bringing together leading social work academics from universities throughout Ireland including Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, University College Cork and the University of Ulster. George Wilson, Lecturer in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, who organised the Forum, was delighted with the very positive feedback from participants who attended the event. Presentations by speakers from Queens and other academic institutions focused on the impact of social work research on recent developments in policy and practice in a variety of fields including childcare and mental health work.  The Forum provided an opportunity for academics to reflect on the current opportunities and challenges facing social work research. Participants also had the opportunity to consider how social work education in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland makes its contribution to a profession best fitted to the developing needs of service users and carers. During the Forum participants were encouraged to consider the possibilities for developing collaborative research projects across the island of Ireland. It is anticipated that academic contacts established as a result of the Forum will lead to future inter-university research initiatives. George Wilson felt that hosting the event at Queens had been instrumental in securing the commitment of social work academics to establishing the Forum as an annual event. The next Forum is scheduled to take place in Trinity College, Dublin in February 2010.

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18/12/2008: Research Assessment Success

Researchers in the School’s two submissions to the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise have achieved world-leading status and international excellence for the high quality and volume of their research work over the past six years, according to the results published today.  In both Social Work and Sociology, 55% of the School’s research activity was judged to be world-leading (4*) and internationally excellent (3*), with 20% at world class level. Only five other universities have Sociology profiles (4*+3*) that are higher than Queen’s.

Social Work has the tenth highest quality profile of all the 68 universities that made submissions to the Social Work and Social Policy & Administration panel, and an overall ranking of 19th. In the 2001 RAE, there was a separate Social Work panel that received 30 submissions, and Queen’s was ranked 9th. It is now 4th among the social work units making submissions to RAE 2008.

Sociology at Queen’s has the 6th highest quality profile of the 39 submissions to the Sociology panel. It achieved an overall ranking of 13th.

In comparison with the 20 Russell Group universities, Sociology at Queen’s achieved 7th place. Social Work achieved 11th place among the Russell Group submissions across Social Work and Social Policy & Administration.

Head of School Professor Mike Tomlinson praised staff for their sustained and committed approach to research in recent years. “The recognition of our research shows how the specialist work that we are known for in the Northern Ireland context has international significance. Whether we are researching the well-being of children or the complexities of social conflict, people want to learn from our research and experience. Our work contributes to knowledge, debate and policy at a global level, as well as making a key contribution to the future cohesion of a society still emerging from decades of conflict. The School has excellent results from RAE 2008 and I want to congratulate all staff, including support staff, on today’s achievement.”

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25/11/2008: Increase in adoption of children in care in Northern Ireland

The number of children being adopted from care in Northern Ireland has increased, according to a study by Queen’s University. However, Health Boards and Trusts vary dramatically in their decisions on long-term placements for children in care.

From Care to Where? A Care Pathways and Outcomes Report for Practitioners explores the placements of the 374 children who were under five years old and in care in Northern Ireland in March 2000. Researchers followed their progress through foster care, adoption or return to birth parents. In March 2000 none of these 374 children were adopted, but by 2004 38 per cent (140 children) had been adopted. In the same period the proportion of children in foster care fell from 61 per cent to 22 per cent.

The study - the first of its kind in Northern Ireland - was conducted by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s and funded by the Research and Development Office for Northern Ireland. It is the first study to look at an entire population of young people in a variety of care environments over a long period of time.

Dr Dominic McSherry from the Institute of Child Care Research said: "While the majority of children in Northern Ireland grow up in a safe and secure family environment, a minority face violence, abuse and neglect in their own homes, and the state has a duty to intervene on their behalf. Prior to 2000, very few children in care were adopted, but this report highlights a fundamental change in long-term placement practice.

“The report also highlights inconsistencies across Health Board areas in the types of long-term care placements chosen for children in care. A higher proportion of children in the Northern and Southern Board areas were adopted. In the Western Board area, children were more likely to be placed in foster care, whereas in the Eastern Board more children were returned to their birth parents.

“The needs of the child must be central to deciding the type of long-term care placement that child should receive, but the findings suggest that inconsistencies across Board areas appear to arise from differences in decision-making within Health Boards and Trusts. These inconsistencies must be addressed if we are to achieve a consistent service across Northern Ireland.

“Due to difficulties in contacting parents whose children had returned home from care, fewer parents from this group were involved in the study, compared with adoptive and foster parents. The study highlighted that a majority of parents in all three groups experience parenting stress. Parents of children who have returned home, however, have higher stress levels than foster or adoptive parents. Their children were also experiencing more emotional and behavioural difficulties.

"The report therefore recommends more targeted support services for all families, and the development of a dedicated support service for the parents of children who have returned home from care.

“The longer a child remains in care, the less likely it is that he or she will return to their birth parents. This is particularly true if they come from a lone parent family, or if their mother or father has a history of alcohol problems. Health authorities must ensure that long-term foster and adoptive parents are given the support and resources they need to care for those children who do not return home to birth parents. Lone parents and those with alcohol problems should also be given support to help prevent their children being taken into care.

“Children in care deserve to be placed in an environment that meets their specific needs and supports them through what must be a difficult time in their childhood. This report should help inform the decisions of those who determine what care pathway is most appropriate for each child, and help ensure that every child in Northern Ireland receives the long-term placement that allows them to achieve their full potential."
Jonathan Pearce, Director of Adoption UK, said: "Adoption UK welcomes the report and, in particular, its findings in relation to adoptive families. It welcomes the evidence that adoption is a beneficial outcome for children who cannot live in their birth families. Adoption UK is pleased to see evidence that backs its call for a regionalised adoption service along with support services available to adoptive families after, as well as before, adoption."

Alicia Toal, Project Co-ordinator of Voice of Young People in Care, said: "It is vital that policy makers have access to good quality locally-based research into the needs of this vulnerable group of children. Given current restructuring within Health and Social Care, targets to reduce the numbers of children coming into care, and recent media coverage of failings within children’s services, this report contains a number of important findings that policy makers must now consider when making decisions about the long-term care of younger children."
The report for practitioners is the first of three reports to be published on the study and is available at  A report for parents, and another for children and young people, will be made available before the end of the year.

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14/11/2008: Professor Mary Daly has been engaged as a consultant by the UN
Professor Mary Daly has been engaged as a consultant by the UN (Division for the Advancement of Women) to prepare the background report for the 53rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women which will be held in March 2009 in New York. The theme is ‘The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS’. As well as presenting the background report to the New York meeting, Professor Daly contributed to a meeting of international experts on the topic which was held in the UN headquarters in Geneva from October 6th to 9th 2008.

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11/11/2008: Dr. Patrick McCrystal on Radio Ulster

Dr. Patrick McCrystal was invited to sit on a panel that discussed under age alcohol abuse on Morning Extra, the Radio Ulster morning news program on 11th November 2008.

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26/09/2008: Conflict in Cities Project Workshop

On September 26th, 2008 the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen's University is holding the first of five annual workshops, as a part of the Conflict in Cities and the Contested State ESRC Research Project. Researchers from three UK universities - University of Cambridge, Queen's University Belfast and the University of Exeter - participate in the Project which analyses divided cities as key sites in territorial conflicts over state and national identities, cultures and borders. The main focus of the project is on Belfast and Jerusalem. It aims to analyse how divided cities in Europe and the Middle East have been shaped by ethnic, religious and national conflicts, and can absorb, resist and play a role in transforming such conflicts. More detailed information on Project objectives and its modular structure is available at

The theme of the workshop is The City and the Contested State. It will include presentations from project members on their working paper contributions to the project; non-project researchers presenting research on Brussels and Kirkuk relating to the theme of the workshop; and practitioners involved in urban planning and policy in Belfast. Round table discussions will involve all participants.

The programme for the Workshop is available at  Working paper contributions of project members can be downloaded from For expressions of interest to attend the Workshop, please contact Milena Komarova (email:; phone: + 44 28 9097 3484).

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24/09/2008: ESRC/DARD Placement Fellow

Dr Sally Shortall, Reader in Sociology, has been awarded a Placement Fellowship jointly sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The one-year Fellowship will support Dr Shortall to work at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to assist in establishing the evidence base to inform rural development policy.

Head of School Professor Mike Tomlinson said “the ESRC is leading the way in supporting knowledge transfer between University-based social scientists and Government, and this prestigious award reflects the School’s own commitment to research which is relevant to the future well-being of Northern Ireland and the wider world.”

Sally Shortall is internationally recognised for her contributions to rural sociology on topics such as social inclusion, rural development theory and practice, gender relations, and changing farming practices. In keeping with the School’s ethos, she has also actively engaged with regional policy, and was recently appointed to the Research and Education Advisory Panel advising DARD on research and education strategies, and also to DARD’s Rural Childcare Strategy Group.

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