Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Departmental Licences

10:05 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

My Department published a notice of intention to grant two prospecting licences in north Leitrim in a local newspaper on 7 October 2021. Submissions on these applications can be made to my Department until 12 midnight on 7 November. Details are available on the Department's website. All valid submissions will be considered before a final decision is made on whether to grant the two prospecting licences in question.

It is important that we all understand the difference between a prospecting licence and a mining licence or lease and the robust standards that are in place to ensure that both distinct activities meet the highest environmental standards and that people's concerns are addressed. A prospecting licence allows the holder to prospect for specified minerals in a defined geographic area. The majority of prospecting activities carried out under a prospecting licence are temporary and involve minimal disturbance. All proposed exploration activities are the subject of environmental screening by my Department. This ensures they will not give rise to any significant adverse effects on the environment. If a prospecting licence is granted, that licence does not confer the licensee with any rights which would allow it to undertake mining and no intrusive prospecting activities such as drilling or trenching can be undertaken without the express consent of the landowner or tenant. It is also worth noting that very few prospecting licences ever lead to mining.

Mining is a very different activity from prospecting in terms of its scale and potential environmental impact and is regulated accordingly. Mining requires three additional and separate consents. It requires planning permission from the local authority. This involves a full environmental impact assessment and public consultation. To emphasise again the point that a mining authorisation does not automatically follow on from a prospecting licence, I will mention that I am aware of examples of economically viable mineral deposits being discovered only for permission to develop them to subsequently be refused by the relevant planning authority.

An integrated pollution control, IPC, licence from the Environmental Protection Agency is also required. IPC licensing aims to prevent or reduce emissions to air, water and land, to reduce waste and to make sure that energy resources are used efficiently. IPC licensing also involves a full environmental impact assessment and public consultation.

A mining lease or licence is also required. This is sought from me, as the relevant Minister. I would not consider granting a mining licence or lease until after planning permission and an IPC licence have been granted. My Department is currently finalising a draft policy statement on mineral exploration and mining by considering the submissions made as part of a public consultation that concluded on 15 October last. The Government will consider the draft policy statement early next year. The draft policy statement highlights the role of minerals in our everyday lives and the critical role they will play in our transition to net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality by 2050. The draft policy recognises that we need to repair, reuse and recycle more minerals and metals but this alone will not supply the quantity of minerals required to decarbonise our energy system through solar power, renewable wind energy and batteries. Relying solely on imported minerals risks these activities being developed in parts of the world where less stringent environmental and human rights standards apply while also risking our ability to secure the minerals needed to make the green and digital transition a reality.

A key priority in the draft policy statement is to build public understanding of, and trust in, mineral exploration and mining activities. During the course of the public consultation on the draft policy statement, the consent of communities to mining operations and the provision of information that is easily understood emerged as key issues. These issues will be taken forward by my Department with the help of an advisory group on mineral exploration and mining which will be established shortly and which will draw on as broad a range of views as possible.


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