Northern Ireland: etc., etc., etc.,
The Good Friday Agreement was made for the Social Democratic And Labour Party. The Democratic Unionist Party would have no part in it. The Ulster Unionist Party leader signed under duress and then facilitated the unravelling of it by the bulk of his party. And Mitchell McLaughlin warned against the "euphoria" that was being worked up about it by the propaganda apparatuses of the two Governments. Only the SDLP was happy with it. How could it have been unhappy with a project shaped to its own design?
So where did it all go wrong? Why did the working of the Agreement cause electoral support to slip away from the SDLP to Sinn Fein? And how did the SDLP exchange places with Sinn Fein, not only electorally, but in political disposition? How did it happen that Sinn Fein is engaged in constructive statesmanship with the London and Dublin Governments while the SDLP is whinging about matters that were implicit in the Agreement, aligning itself with the Tory and Fine Gael Oppositions, looking to the House of Lords to reject legislation passed by the Commons, and urging the "feckless and reckless" Tony Blair to stand down in favour of Gordon Brown?
It went wrong because the SDLP, the architect of the GFA, did not understand its own construction. It did not understand what we said over thirty years ago: that Northern Ireland is perhaps the least suitable region of the world for the operation of devolved government. It consists of a profound social antagonism between two peoples whose allegiance is given to different states, and it is not itself a state and is therefore incapable of being a democratic state. It has no capacity for evolving. Its internal arrangements are made from outside itself.
The SDLP naturally would not listen to us when we were attempting to displace it by bringing in the Labour Party of the state. But it might have listened to Charles Haughey when he said a quarter of a century ago that Northern Ireland "was not a viable entity". (And something which is not a viable entity cannot, of course, be a democratically viable entity.)
The GFA had no internal dynamic. It sought to manipulate the two hostile communities into operating a kind of joint government in physical proximity, but political separation, from each other. The various parties would control government departments allocated on the basis of a complicated mathematical system, but those departments would not be the instruments of a Cabinet or general Executive. Each department would be autonomous. It would be the possession of a political party—the government of a part rather than a part of the government; not accountable to the parliament.
The hope, founded on a crude application of the philosophy of association of ideas, was that the hostile parties would find their hostility withering away as a result of physical proximity within the same government buildings and a single body politic would evolve. But familiarity does not always breed content. The power of repulsion between hostile elements may increase in proportion to their closeness. It has been known for members of the same family to break of relations with each other and hate each other to the death, and the hope that feuding families placed in adjacent rooms but sharing the same entrance would grow to love one another was groundless.
For a year and a half the leader of the UUP warded off the evil day when, as First Minister with a co-equal Nationalist Deputy First Minister, he would become head of this series of independent Departments. He was not in fact the Chairman of a Cabinet responsible to a parliament for the various governments departments, but at the same time he could hardly express hatred and contempt for the Education Minister and the Health Minister as the leader of the DUP did. And the Ministers for Education and Health, who in different circumstances might have rebuffed him, and would certainly have done so if he had tried to act as Prime Minister, in these circumstances embarrassed him greatly by trying to embrace him.
The UUP consistently lost support to the DUP because of the part it played in operating the Agreement, even though the part it played was to subvert it from within. But there was in the UUP/DUP conflict a considerable degree of role playing. The UUP was no more committed to working the Agreement than the DUP, but it had a different part to play in the service of the Unionist interest. Trimble brought about a situation in which Whitehall, in order to save him from bringing down the Agreement with unforeseeable consequences for the Union, suspended the Agreement—put it into deep freeze—and allowed the DUP to become the main representative of Unionism in circumstances where there was no Agreement in operation. And much of the UUP slipped across to the DUP without angst or trauma.
The SDLP did not play a comparable role on the Nationalist side to the UUP on the Unionist side. It embarked on a fantasy of "post-nationalism" and acted as if the communal antagonism, which is the only possible content of Northern Ireland politics, had somehow been superseded by an Agreement which in fact formalised and structured it to a degree never seen before.
Trimble became 'First Minister' in the Summer of 1998. Then for a year and a half he was the First Minister of a Government without Ministries. He made IRA decommissioning a precondition of Sinn Fein taking up the departments to which it was entitled by the system established by the GFA. He declared the principle of "Guns before Government", which was nowhere to be found in the Agreement. He based his refusal to initiate the devolved system on a letter that Blair wrote him a day or two after the Agreement was signed, and on a second letter sent by Blair on the eve of the referendum in order to encourage Unionists to vote Yes. These letters formed no part of the Agreement. What they said could not have formed part of the Agreement. If their content had been insisted upon in the negotiation of the Agreement, there would have been no Agreement.
Trimble's method of stalling the implementation of the Agreement during the crucial year and a half was to refuse to nominate UUP Ministers, while insisting that the two years, envisaged by the Agreement as a period during which Republican decommissioning would occur, should still apply.
That was the time when it would have been to the point for the SDLP to criticise Blair as rash and feckless. His letters were the ground on which Trimble felt secure in sabotaging the Agreement.
We suggested that the SDLP should adopt the position that the two-year decommissioning clock should only start running when the devolved institutions were running, and that it should be stopped while the institutions were stopped. But it did not heed this good advice any more than it heeded our advice on other critical situations, chiefly in 1971 and 1974.
Eventually Blair exerted pressure on Trimble (of a kind we can guess at) to nominate Ministers. But he did so on a six-week decommissioning ultimatum. And so we had a couple of spurts of devolved government before the Marxist-Leninist Secretary of State, John Reid, arranged the Stormontgate etc. grounds for suspension in order to Save Dave from himself. But it proved impossible to save him from others.
And Sinn Fein conducted itself so well, while the SDLP did so so badly, that they have changed places, and the SDLP is now playing the Green Card for all it is worth in the hope of regaining credibility.
The 'On The Runs' are its issue: which is to say, the arrangements for people who were not in prison in 1998, so that they could be let out, or people who had not been even charged but might be.
What we have now is the British Government attempting to draw a line under the war so that things can 'move on' (a term without which British politics would not work), and the SDLP along with the Tories pleading the cause of eternal justice which takes no cognisance of political circumstances—and Fine Gael supporting the eternal cause in the South and making the Government think again about one of the few sensible things it has contemplated—the issuing of free pardons by Parliament.
The SDLP's fig-leaf is that Westminster included policemen and soldiers in the On The Run provisions. They have accused Sinn Fein of being in collusion with the state in order to cheat the victims of state terrorism of the justice which they deserve. If the SDLP leaders actually believe that the state will mete out justice to its victims in these matters, they are living in a bigger fool's paradise than we ever imagined.
"one of the architects of Ostpolitik—Willy Brandt's adviser, Egon Bahr—once said: “If you want to change realities, you have to recognise them.
"In the early 1970s, West Germans did—in many cases very reluctantly—recognise the reality of a second German state and began to deal with it.
"Two decades later, they were reunited, when the two parts decided to come together in acts of concurrent self-determination.
"A majority on the whole was made up—and had to be made up—of the majority of the two parts.
"The people of Ireland—and of nationalist Ireland overwhelmingly—have decided that Ireland will only be reunited by that same method."
Thus does Senator Martin Mansergh pursue his mission.
This is a further contribution to his argument with Liam O Comain of Derry in the Irish News (28 Nov.) Some of his earlier contributions were commented on last month. Another contributor to that discussion asked: "Does Martin Mansergh understand the meaning of the word 'devious'?" It's a pertinent question. One begins to suspect that the answer is that he doesn't.
The meaning of the paragraphs quoted, if the series of facts is understand as causative, is that the unification of Germany came about as a consequence of the recognition by West Germany of the legitimacy of the East German state. And Mansergh clearly intends his facts to be understood in a causative connection with each other. The implication is that West German recognition of the legitimacy of East Germany led to a rapprochement between the two states as East German suspicions of West Germany were allayed.
Is 15 years such a long time in politics that it allows a confidence trick like this to be got away with?
The obstacle to the unification of Germany was never the will of the people in East Germany. And the operative cause of unification was the collapse of the Soviet regime.
Germany was divided as a consequence of invasion. Britain declared war on it in 1939 on the issue of Danzig. The Poles resisted a settlement of that issue at the urging of Britain, which gave them a guarantee of military alliance against Germany. It declared war when Germany resorted to direct action, but did nothing whatever to make good its guarantee to the Poles. It maintained its declaration of war against Germany after the Polish state collapsed, and was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union, but still made no attempt to invade Germany, though it tried to get into military conflict with the Soviet Union in Finland. The British intention was that the French should bear the main human cost of the war on Germany, and it made only minimal provision for fighting it. But, once burned, twice shy. The French bore the main cost of the fist war on Germany and were prevented by Britain from making a settlement that would rule out the possibility of a second war with Germany for many generations, or even centuries. They were not willing to bear the main brunt of a second war instigated by Britain. When Germany responded to the declarations of war on it in May 1940 with some initial success, Britain took its Army off the Continent and made no arrangements to return. And France made a settlement. But Britain, safe behind its control of the seas, and knowing that Hitler had no intention of attempting an invasion, maintained its declaration of war and kept Europe on a war-footing, in the hope of bringing about a war between Germany and the Soviet Union.
That strategy bore fruit in June 1941. The military substance of the Second World War was the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. Russia fought alone for three years, with British activity limited to pin-pricks on the margins. American entered the war in December 1941 and urged the opening of a Second Front. Britain refused to act in 1942 and 1943. The hope was that the German and Russian Armies would so weaken each other that Britain could eventually step in and assert mastery. But, after the Battle of Kursk, it became evident that Russia was going to win and that, if the Second Front was delayed for another year, the power across the Channel might well be Soviet. The invasion was therefore launched in 1944 and Britain and the USA succeeded in seizing France and parts of Germany from the weak German Army in the West before meeting the Russian Army in the heart of Germany. (The meeting point would probably have been much further East but for the systematic British obstruction of the Americans.) And that was the Partition of Germany. It had nothing whatever to do with the will of the German people. The area of Western occupation was made into the Federal Republic and the area of Soviet occupation into the People's Republic. The division between them was not a function of German politics. It was a function of the geopolitics of the Great Powers.
The West German state was the creation, with American backing, of Konrad Adenauer, one of the founders of Christian Democracy. Adenauer refused to recognise the legitimacy of the East German state. When the Social Democrats came to power, they recognised East Germany as a legitimate state. This recognition of reality had no effect whatever in changing the reality which it recognised. The Partition of Germany carried on for a further generation. Unification came about through the collapse of the Power behind East Germany, and of the political stratum within East Germany which acted for that Power. When unification happened—when the East Germans voted for unity—the West German state reverted to Adenauer's position that East Germany was not a legitimate state, and it set about criminalising its personnel. Border guards who had protected the state were prosecuted for murder. Confiscations of landlord property carried out by the East German state were treated as theft, and the property was restored to those who had owned it in Nazi Germany. In the matter of pensions etc., service of the Nazi state was recognised as legitimate and the pensions were paid, but service of the East German state was not recognised as entitling a person to a full pension. And the general consequence of unification was the colonisation of the East by overlords from the West who decreed that everything done under the auspices of the East German state was worthless and should be destroyed.
But certain changes enacted in East Germany were recognised as legitimate by the West German state after unification. Those were the changes made directly by Russia as an occupying Power, without the intermediacy of the East German state.
Such was the unification of Germany. It was the incorporation of the East into the West German state, and the punishment of East Germans for having served the Russian occupation. Willy Brandt's 'recognition' counted for nothing either in bringing about unification or protecting East Germans after unification. His Ostpolitik was treated in the moment of unification as being no more legitimate than the state which it recognised.
Senator Mansergh might care to reconsider his German model for Irish unification.
Liam O Comain comments:
"Mr. Mansergh refuses to live in the real world when he believes that something relevant to Germany's history and recent past will have any significance to the British problem in Ireland. Perhaps it could have some bearing if Britain was willing to disengage from Ireland, but she has no intention of doing so".
Which recognises what Mansergh denies: the crucial role of the Power behind the statelet, in Ireland as well as Germany.
Wolfe Tone's part in 1798 is also an issue in this dispute:
Mansergh (4 Nov): "Liam O Comain… still fails to grasp his misunderstanding of the teaching of Wolfe Tone, that you have to achieve unity between people (the means) first, in order to achieve separation (the object)—not the other way around."
O Comain (5 Nov): "Martin Mansergh has got it wrong in relation to Tone's principles for the father founder of Irish republicanism led a rebellion against British occupation (the separatist objective) before achieving unity (the means). So who is putting the cart before the horse…?"
Mansergh (28 Nov): "On a point of history, Wolfe Tone did not lead the 1798 rebellion. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was designated leader till his arrest and he had no one replacement. Tone was the emissary of the United Irishmen in Paris and was captured off the coast of Donegal in November 1798. The whole basis of the rebellion was to combine in particular northern Presbyterians and Catholics throughout Ireland. He did not unite them but at least he tried, with some success. Contrast this with the world of active dissident republicanism which is a Protestant-free zone."
O Comain (2 Dec): "Martin Mansergh in his recent exercise as an apologist for the Belfast Agreement attempts to rewrite history by cutting hairs and denying Wolfe Tone's leadership of the republican rising of 1798. Even Schoolchildren would name Wolfe Tone as the authentic leader of that glorious chapter in our history. Unfortunately Mr. Mansergh's response is the typical reaction of revisionists and unfortunately that ilk has grown in numbers in recent decades as they twist the truth, on behalf of their non-national political ideologies."
It seems that Mansergh broke off at this point (O Comain on 17 December concluded a reply to another correspondent by asking "why doesn't Martin add his opinion also?"). It was very foolish of him to have engaged in this dispute in the first place. Not because the matter at issue is irrelevant—far from it—but because he has no sense of what it is to live as part of the 'minority' in the Northern Ireland Limbo.
He has been making it clear in recent years that his general outlook is that of his father. Nicholas Mansergh was a British academic/administrator with some property in Ireland. He has recently been hailed by Professor Joseph Lee as the greatest Irish historian of the 20th century. His books were written in the service of the British state. Martin has indignantly rejected the notion that his father was a spy. We don't know who floated that notion. We can only say it is absurd. Nicholas Mansergh was entirely open and above board in his activities—altogether unlike Elizabeth Bowen. He was a permanent member of the apparatus of the British state in Britain and his job was to handle the British interest intellectually in matters related to the decline of the Empire. His book on Northern Ireland, published in the mid-1930s, is written entirely from the British viewpoint and it glosses over the perversity of the Northern Ireland political system, blaming its political abnormality on the Nationalists. His book on the First World War, which began as a series of lectures delivered at a Protestant ladies college in Dublin during the Second World War, is little more than a re-hash of the British war propaganda of 1914. And Martin has recently gone on record as dissenting from the 1916 Proclamation in the matter of the "gallant allies in Europe".
(As for Professor Lee: he is, it seems, an "anti-revisionist". But he resigned from his position as Professor of History in Cork University and made way for a revisionist because he was unable to hold his own against his subordinates in his own department.)
Senator Mansergh describes O Comain as a "dissident republican". Is that because he is not a Provisional Republican? Does Fianna Fail regard Provisional Republicanism as authentic and legitimate? Obviously not. If it did so, it would have been acting differently with regard to the North in recent years, and the outcome would have been different.
Albert Reynolds, during his brief period in office before the Irish Times and the Labour Party undermined him, did treat Provisional Republicanism as an authentic product of the thoroughly abnormal Northern Ireland set-up. He did not apply to it the standards that would be appropriate to a party in a functional democracy but which have no relevance in Northern Ireland. But Bertie has been incapable of continuing that approach. He has entered the make-belief of Northern Ireland democracy, and has handed over Northern policy to his Minister of the Interior—one must not mistake names for things; MacDowell has the Justice portfolio, but his conduct is that of a Minister of the Interior who asserts the authority of the state with little regard for law. The 26 Counties is now being governed by a party representing 4% of the electorate, in the manner of a banana republic.
The leaders of Sinn Fein are declared to be bank-robbers without a shred of evidence being produced. In the year since the Northern Bank robbery there have been a number of arrests in connection with it, but we have not heard it suggested that any of those arrested were connected with Gerry Adams. The Columbia Three were treated as guilty for political purposes in Ireland. They were found Not Guilty by the court in Columbia. And they were found guilty by Executive decree, which even C.C. O'Brien says was on instruction from Washington. The attribution of the robbery of documents from Castlereagh high-security barracks to the Provos for political purposes has not been followed by charges, or even arrests, of Republicans—and nothing has come to light which challenges the view that it was an incident in the dispute between forces of state security in the North. And the Stormontgate case collapsed in Court—with the state acknowledging that the person whom it charged with illegal possession of documents was in fact its own spy, an agent.
We do not deny that those responsible for governing a state must sometimes act on information which cannot be made the basis for criminal prosecution. Even well-governed democratic states do it all the time. But, in the doing of it, they do not usually blurt out from the housetops as certain fact the allegations concerning which they do not even have sufficient evidence to formulate a charge.
Of the four major allegations which were the pretext for suspending the operation of the Good Friday Agreement, three of them (those within the jurisdiction of the two states which collaborated in making the allegations), remain entirely unsubstantiated, while in the case of the fourth (Columbia) the finding of the Court on the basis of presentation of the evidence was overturned by the Executive without either new evidence or review of the evidence on which the finding of the Court was based.
This is government by Ministries of the Interior, North and South, acting outside the rule of law, without even the decency of preserving the good name of the law by announcing that it has been suspended to facilitate Executive action in what the Governments claim to be a dire emergency.
(In the North, the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, has no standing of his own. Following a long career as a dissident, he entered the establishment as Tony Blair messenger-boy, and he has the good sense to know his limitations. The party currently governing the South has convinced itself that it warded off a Provo coup d'etat during the past year. One of the PD Senators, John Minahane, went on Radio Eireann to characterise Provisional Republicanism as a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary conspiracy. Meanwhile, the leader of the PDs has been making discreet approaches to the Labour Party, which is led by the Marxist-Leninist Official Republicans who denounced the Provos as mere nationalists back at the start of it all. The Provos were unaffected by the collapse of Marxism-Leninism, or were possibly even strengthened by it, because they were mere nationalists. And now the leader of the Labour Party, Pat Rabbitte, who is in the Labour Party because Marxism-Leninism collapsed on him, describes the Provos as "tribalists" (IT 30.12.05), while declaring his intention of participating in the revived 1916 commemoration—this intention being undoubtedly determined by the resurgence of Provo Sinn Fein.)
The revelation that a prominent member of Sinn Fein has been an agent of the British Government for twenty years led to a demand by the SDLP that Gerry Adams should resign, and a warning from Anthony McIntyre that the Dail is being penetrated by the British wolf under the guise of Sinn Fein sheep. Thus the Provos are being simultaneously criticised by the SDLP for being lax in its counter-intelligence activity and for engaging in that activity at all. And God only knows what Anthony McIntyre is up to.
On the day that it was officially admitted that Denis Donaldson was a British agent, Paul Murphy (Peter Hain's predecessor) was brought on British radio to assure the British public that, even though the Stormontgate prosecution had collapsed, what was alleged by the prosecution was true, because Donaldson had in his possession documents that he should not have. But in which capacity did Donaldson possess those documents? And what documents were they?
The state lays charges against its own agent and members of his family for illegal possession of documents and then collapses the trial on the basis that the agent is going to be named. Who was going to name him? Was Donaldson expected to serve a prison sentence in order to maintain his credibility as a Sinn Feiner and justify the suspension of the Agreement on the grounds that Sinn Fein was in breach of it? Was this a requirement too far for him? Did the Government give him advance notice that he was going to be "outed" in the hope that it would cause him to accept its offer to disappear into a false identity in foreign parts and thus enable Lord Alderdyce and his 'Independent Monitoring Commission' to find that the Provos had breached their Ceasefire by getting rid of him?
We do not expect that these questions will ever be answered. But the practical assumption must be that the State planted the 'Stormontgate' documents, but somehow its agent who planted them failed to plant them on anybody but himself and his son-in-law.
The British state has, in its internal affairs, operated by espionage and blackmail ever since the time of Elizabeth and Cecil. We did not believe otherwise during the years when we tried to get the Six Counties incorporated into its political life—and we were ourselves never subjected to its espionage and blackmail activities as much as during those years. But the Dublin state, which is in so many ways a creation of the British in that regard, is certainly no better. And the best way of coping with it all is to carry on regardless. After all the agent must serve the cause which he is sent to subvert in order to gain purchase on it.
The Sinn Fein leadership has been consistent in its approach for 20 years. It worked the Agreement well from the viewpoint of the general nationalist interest while the SDLP worked it badly, and we cannot see what more could be expected in Northern Ireland. The Stakeknife (or is it Steak-knife?) revelations did it little damage, and we cannot see why the Donaldson affair should damage it. It is the little boy in the Northern Ireland Office who was left looking foolish. Twenty years ago, when he was a saboteur on principle, he was the victim of a conspiracy from which he was lucky to escape—but in office in the most conspiratorial state of all he has lost the ability to believe in conspiracies, and he must maintain his disbelief even in the face of an exposed conspiracy.
Our view of the Agreement from the start has been that it is an unworkable concoction, constructed in accordance with John Hume's convoluted rhetoric, and agreed to by the UUP under duress, which might be given a semblance of life by strong external pressure on the Unionists continuously applied. The Provos agreed to operate within it from a position of initial disadvantage, and they made a success of their part in it—i.e., the Catholic community is for the most part satisfied with the part that they have played. They have in a sense become part of the establishment, but in an arrangement which is far from being a settlement.
In those circumstances there are certainly general grounds for republican criticism. Senator Mansergh brands such criticism as "dissident", but without recognising Provo republicanism as authentic or legitimate. And, by his far-fetched modes of argument, we cannot see that he does anything but harm to the cause he imagines he is supporting.
It is, as O Comain says, ridiculous to quibble over the customary republican view of Wolfe Tone. And two referendums, held in two states with the results not being combined, are in no way comparable to the 1918 Election, held in what until then had never been regarded as anything but an integral constitutional unit. "Concurrent" voting is of no consequence. A 6 County vote for unity would not be invalidated by the fact that the 26 Counties voted on a different day. The day doesn't matter. It is only part of the confidence trick. Numerous elections have been held in the North and the South ever since 1921, and neither their results or their significance would have been different if they had always been held on the same day.
As for the leader in 1798: Wolfe Tone sailed from France with serious intent, having organised a French invasion, and was captured. His reasoning was that a successful invasion would elicit widespread support. O Comain is right in his sequencing.
The unity within had crumbled before Wolfe Tone sailed. Lord Edward was betrayed by a high-minded informer. The supposed General for County Down, the Rev. William Steel Dickson, had been imprisoned, possibly because Lord Castlereagh, whom he had once taught, had a soft spot for him, knew what he was up to, and wanted to put him out of harm's way—and he was all but forgotten when Athol Books restored him. Most important of all was General Simms, United General for Co. Antrim. General Who? Why, General Simms, the lynch-pin of the movement in its heartland. He resigned his commission on the eve of battle, leaving his Army leaderless, and settled down as a prosperous Belfast bourgeois under the Union.
Wolfe tone was the man all right. Mansergh is being too clever by half.
(Of course the main fighting was done in Wexford. But it happened in response to Government terrorism in an area where there was scarcely any United organisation.)
And Mansergh's jibe about "dissident" Republicanism being "a Protestant-free zone" is very cheap indeed. It was no merit at all on the part of the United Irish movement that it included Protestants, seeing that it was a movement within Protestant Ireland, and was strongest in Antrim and Down, where there were then very few Catholics. In those days Ireland was a Protestant State for a Protestant nation. The United Irish aspired to bring the Catholic millions into the nation to strengthen it as an independent component of the Empire. It was not disputed then that the Kingdom of Ireland was an integral constitutional entity. Things are rather different now. The country has been divided and the 'democracy' of the British part of it has been rigorously separated into Protestant-free and Catholic-free political bodies by the Agreement for which Mansergh is an enthusiast. Segregation is the order of the day. And, within this officially-ordered segregation, the 'dissident Republicans', as far as we know, have been as successful in attracting Protestants as any other organisation on that side.
Northern Ireland: etc., etc., etc.
The Dictatorship Of The (petty) Bourgeoisie.
1916 And All That.
Finian McGrath TD Condemns McDowell.
The 2006 Budget.
Athol Books At The RIA.
"No Taxation Without Representation".
Shorts from the Long Fellow
The Sinn Fein Mayor Of Belfast.
Northern Nationalists In The Dáil: Under-Represented,
Part One: De Valera And Partition.
Part Two: Collins And Partition.
Executed At Dawn, Ambushed In Kilmichael.
An Algerian Debate. L'Humanité
The Milwaukee Leader.
John A. Murphy On Peter Hart.
The Worst Has Yet To Come.
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