Thursday, 12 July 2018
Topical Issue Debate
I am disappointed that the Minister responsible is not able to attend. I have made numerous attempts to table questions, and they have been refused. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle again for accepting this Topical Issue matter. I have submitted this matter because I was disturbed when I found out that large volumes of coal supplying the largest power plant in the State, Moneypoint power station, are coming from the Cerrejón mine in Colombia. This mine is infamous for the destruction of the environment, forcible displacement of indigenous people and Afro-Colombians living in the area and workers' rights abuses. During the past 32 years, more than 20,000 Afro-Colombian and indigenous people have been forced from their traditional homes to make way for this ever-growing mine. Land grabs and evictions have been carried out by Cerrejón's agents using intimidation, forcing the communities to hand over their land for laughable prices using their dominant position and relying on the complicity of the state authorities.
Figures from the ESB show that Moneypoint has used 12,568,717 tonnes of imported coal since 2011. Some 11,264,239 tonnes of this coal, just under 90%, has come from Colombia, and the vast majority of that has come from this mine in the north east of Colombia. The mine is operated by multinational companies such as Glencore, which is currently under investigation in the US for massive corruption and money laundering in its mining operations throughout the world, and Coal Marketing Company, CMC, which has offices here in Dublin. I have seen documents which show that this is the company from which we are buying coal.
This mine is located in one of the poorest regions in Colombia. Indigenous communities that have lived on this land since long before the mine was opened in 1985 have seen this area's precious ecosystem destroyed and their health damaged by this coal mining operation. Air pollution from the mine has caused serious and fatal respiratory problems for these communities. Noise pollution from machinery is also damaging the health and quality of life. In 2016, a legal ruling obliged the mine owners to implement an environment action plan and to attend to the health needs of these indigenous communities, but nothing has been done. In fact, just eight months after this ruling, it expanded its operation. Work began to extract minerals from the bed of a river tributary near the plant, which has run dry following three years of intense drought, decades of overuse and a lifetime of public corruption in the region. Another river tributary which is an important source of water for these indigenous communities has also been diverted to serve the mine and its relentless expansion.
The mine is slowly exterminating the indigenous people in this land. The communities do not want this mine. They want access to water and other natural resources in the area so that they can produce agricultural products and live their lives in harmony, free from the environmental degradation this mine brings.
The community and human rights defenders standing up for their rights are being harassed and threatened, and the police and army have attacked these protests on the mine's operation. The mine and the community cannot survive side by side. One of them has to go and it should be the mine. We are part of the problem by importing the coal. It is not for someone else to worry about. As the main shareholder in the ESB will the Government direct it to stop importing coal from this mine immediately and end the use of coal, which is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels in Ireland?