Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Departmental Licences

9:55 pm

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I want to raise the issue of what I believe is the Minister's intention to grant prospecting licences for base metals, gold and silver ores, in a significant number of townlands in Leitrim. The prospecting licences were initially given to Omagh Minerals but they expired in 2020 and new licences have been applied for by Flintridge, a new company. However, three of its four officers are former officers of Omagh Minerals.

The Minister's intention has come as a shock and a nasty surprise to the local community for a number of reasons. This community, including the farmers, tourism operators, fishermen, and across society in Leitrim and internationally, have campaigned vigorously to ensure that fracking would not be permitted.

They did so because they wanted to preserve their landscape, their clean air and water and public health. I am thankful that campaign was successful and I congratulate all those involved, including the former Deputy, Tony McLoughlin, who played an important role.

As I have said, many people are aghast at the idea that, after declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019, Ireland is considering issuing prospecting licences to the mining industry. During my last term in the European Parliament, some of the most important legislation we put through related to the establishment of the circular economy. This is now on the Statute Book and Ireland has committed to establishing a circular economy. Gold mining has no place within it. In the mining industry, a large number of harmful chemicals that can negatively impact air and water quality are used. These include mercury and cyanide. It is estimated that in order to produce enough raw gold to make a single ring, 20 tonnes of rock and soil are dislodged and discarded. Many people are concerned because they have heard first-hand reports from Omagh of the lived experience of gold mining and of the negative human, societal and environmental damage it has done.

The GeoScience Regulation Office has told us that these are prospecting licences and not mining licences, and that they do not confer any right to mine. Let us look at the reality of that. Companies apply for prospecting licences based on geological information. If such a licence is given, the company involved may then invest money in prospecting and there is a significant expectation that it will apply for a mining licence. This is all the more likely because, last year, global production of gold fell by 1%. Companies are now looking at those deposits that are more difficult to extract.

I mentioned first-hand accounts from Omagh, where a mine has been in operation since the early 2000s. The area in question is significant. One site covers 71 square miles while another covers 96 square miles. There are various ponds, Kearney trenches, polishing ponds and processing plants all in a pristine environment. That is the picture painted by the people of Omagh. If the Minister ever visited the glens of north Leitrim, he would be horrified at the idea that this was even a possibility.

To suggest that prospecting licences are just that and no more is like saying that people who do a driving test and then invest in buying a car are simply doing so to see if they can pass the test. The truth is they are doing it so they can drive a car.


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