Licence for gold prospecting in Leitrim

TD: ‘We do not need this activity’

Sligo News File

County Leitrim is the only county where planning permission cannot be obtained at the moment because of soil quality, the Dail has heard.

The issue was referenced by Marc MacSharry when he said his colleagues, Deputy Harkin, Deputy Kenny, Deputy Feighan, and he all agreed that Minister Eamon Ryan seemed to be on the verge of granting prospecting licences for gold-mining in the north of Leitrim. 

Addressing Green Party Minister of State Ossian Smyth, he said he (Smyth) would appreciate “it beggars belief that any party in Leinster House, much less the Green Party and its leader, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, would give prospecting licences to gold-mining companies.

“The company concerned, Flintridge Resources Limited, is,” he said, “connected to another company called Omagh Minerals Limited, which had a licence in this area previously. That company breached the guidelines it was to follow regarding informing landowners of prospecting and liaising with them in that regard. That was not done.

“In addition, as I am sure the Minister of State is well aware, gold mining is the most disruptive form of mining. It can lead to contamination of the water table and it has led to cyanide, zinc and other chemicals entering the water table.”

Smyth said the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications published a notice of intention to grant two mineral prospecting licences in north Leitrim in local newspapers on 7 October 2021. Submissions on these applications were invited until 7 November, which was last Sunday, “and no final decision has yet been taken on whether to grant the two prospecting licences. All valid submissions will be considered before a final decision is made.

However, he pointed out that that mineral exploration was not mining. They were two very different activities, given their potential environmental impacts and scale. “Different regulatory rules apply to each undertaking,” he said. “A prospecting licence relates to the activity of exploring for minerals only and it does not give the licence holder permission to mine. Most prospecting activities are temporary and involve minimal disturbance.

“Mining requires three additional and separate consents. Planning permission must first be obtained from the local authority. This involves a full environmental impact assessment, EIA, and public consultation. The activity of mining then also requires an integrated pollution control, IPC, licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and that process also involves a full environmental impact assessment and public consultation. In addition, a mining lease or licence is also required, and this is sought from the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. A mining lease or licence, if granted, is not granted until after planning permission and an IPC licence are in place.”

“All proposed exploration activities are the subject of environmental screening by the Department. This ensures that they will not give rise to any significant adverse effects on the environment. Furthermore, 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 few prospecting licences ever lead to mining.”

“We should be aware,” he said “that there are 432 active prospecting licences which cover about 21% of the country’s land area. It means that 432 teams are actively prospecting, in many cases for gold, in different places all over the country. Some of those sites are within the Deputy’s constituency in Sligo. It is this particular instance in Leitrim that has drawn considerable attention, not just from the Deputy but also from his constituency colleagues, Deputies Harkin and Martin Kenny.

“That may perhaps be because Leitrim, especially north Leitrim, is a place that is particularly environmentally sensitive. Local activist groups there have successfully managed to block fracking in the past and helped to change the national policy on that activity.

“There are also concerns about forestry, with evergreen trees putting people’s homes in the shade, wind farm development and so on. There has therefore been a lot of interest in what will happen. That may be the reason Leitrim is the place where there has been a sudden interest in and a large movement concerned with gold prospecting.”

The Department, he added, “is finalising a draft policy statement on mineral exploration and mining and submissions received as part of a public consultation that concluded on 15 October are being considered. The Government will consider the draft policy statement early next year. It 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 reuse and recycle more minerals and metals, but the document also accepts that this alone will not supply the quantity of minerals required to decarbonise our energy system through solar power, renewable wind energy and batteries. Relying on imported minerals risks these activities being developed in parts of the world where less stringent environmental and human rights standards apply. It also risks our ability to secure the supply of minerals needed to make the green and digital transitions.

MacSharry: “We do not need this activity. We must listen to the will of the people of the area. Dare I say it, if this was happening in Ranelagh or Irishtown, I am sure the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, would not be interested in it going ahead. Equally, if this was occurring in Galway, I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would not be supporting it, nor indeed would any of us support it.”