Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is unavailable this morning. I thank Deputy Guirke for raising this very important matter for his constituency and for County Meath. I concur with his concerns and also with his comments on the workforce, which is very skilled and dedicated and works in a high-pressure environment.
Boliden Tara Mines DAC is the operator of Tara Mines, located in Navan, County Meath. While drilling a pilot hole for venting purposes for its return air raise shaft No. 7 for the Tara deep exploration drive, there was an inrush of water to the mine. Thankfully, there were no injuries. The pilot hole broke through into the underground vent drive early in the morning of Sunday, 21 November 2021. Initial water flow was minor but built up over a number of days to a substantial volume and became greater than the mine pumping capacity. The mine authorities took the decision to allow the Tara deep exploration drive, which is over 2.4 km long, to flood. They removed equipment from the deeper sections of the mine and stopped production operations to facilitate this work. Efforts are ongoing to stem the inflow of water into the mine and a number of contingency plans are in place. The mine is containing the water from the pilot hole within the mine workings and it is currently not being discharged to the surface.
Mining in Ireland is highly regulated. For any mine to operate in Ireland it requires planning permission from the relevant local authority, in this case Meath County Council, an integrated pollution control or industrial emissions licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and a State mining facility from the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. Health and safety for the mines are regulated by the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, which brought in new mining legislation in 2018, namely the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Mines) Regulations, Sl 133 of 2018. The regulations apply to all mines where people work and set out duties on the owner, operator, manager and employees at a mine with respect to persons at or in the area immediately surrounding a mine. The regulations came into operation on 30 April 2018.
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, through the Geoscience Regulation Office, GSRO, is actively monitoring the situation and is liaising with the EPA and Meath County Council on the matter. Officials from the GSRO visited the Tara site earlier this week and engagement is ongoing between the regulators and Boliden. However, it is not yet known when mining operations will restart.
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is currently finalising a draft policy statement on mineral exploration and mining. Submissions as part of a public consultation which concluded on 15 October last are currently being considered. The Government will consider the draft policy statement early next year. The draft policy statement highlights the important 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.
As is the case with the Navan mine, mining activities also have the potential to enhance and grow local communities, not just in terms of the provision of skilled jobs and the financial contribution they make to local economies, but also in terms of infrastructural improvements and improvements in the human capital they deliver in rural areas. It is not possible at this point to say when the Navan mine will become operational again, but the situation is being closely monitored.