Fears island of Ireland faces ‘new slicing’ by mining companies | Mining

Conservationists on the island of Ireland say they fear a “re-carving of the island” over the next few decades, with mining concessions now covering more than a quarter of all land on both sides of the border.

More than 25% of Northern Ireland’s total area is covered by mining concessions, according to government statistics, while the figure for the Republic of Ireland has been even higher in the past two years, at 27 %. Prospecting permits covering these areas grant mining companies permission to survey and assess the sites, as well as carry out exploration work including digging tunnels, pits, taking rock samples and carrying out chemical analyses.

These areas compare to an estimated 7.7% coverage of Scotland, 6.4% of Wales and 0.2% of England – based on rough calculations of data held by the Coal Authority and the domain of the Crown.

Figures released by the devolved Department of Economics indicate that more than a quarter of the land in a number of 11 local authority areas in Northern Ireland is covered by prospecting licenses and that 69.1% of the local authority area of ​​Derry and Strabane, by the land boundary with the Republic of Ireland, is covered by such mining concessions.

The same department has since 2016 granted 13 prospecting licenses to companies seeking to extract gold, silver and diamonds, among other precious metal and mineral deposits. Four other license applications are pending, prompting Northern Ireland’s largest party, Sinn Féin, to call for a moratorium on new licences.

Activists fear contamination of waterways, “artificial” social division and threats to “old and existing ways of life” posed by potential mining projects.

“The extent of coverage of mining concessions in Ireland represents a new carve-up of the island,” said James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland.

Lynda Sullivan, a member of Communities Against the Injustice of Mining, an island-wide network of groups resisting mining and other forms of industrialized extraction, said: “Extractivism is a form of neo-colonialism – it works according to the same dynamic as colonialism, targeting and exploiting the marginalized.

“There’s a whole range of impacts that come with mining…along with the environmental devastation, it’s also about the social breakdown that comes with mining: the ‘exploitation’ of the community that comes before the exploitation of the land. It is the destruction of old and existing livelihoods and ways of life that accompanies the industrialization of rural areas.

However, industry bodies such as the Institute of Geologists of Ireland (IGI) say Ireland has long been the subject of significant mineral exploration and must ensure it remains open to this activity. to facilitate the transition to a “green economy”.

“Much of the country has been the subject of mineral exploration since the 1960s, with thousands of prospecting licenses having been issued across Ireland (north and south),” said Emer Blackwell, chairman of the mining group. work on IGI mineral information. “At one time, Ireland was the leading producer of zinc in Europe and among the top 10 producers in the world.”

Blackwell said “production is key to maintaining our standard of living and facilitating the transition to a green economy”, adding that the €550m annual investment behind this work has supported an “indigenous industry flourishing” in the Republic of Ireland which extends to approximately 1,400 regions. works.

Much of the popular opposition to new mining ventures in Northern Ireland and the border area has centered on a demand for gold and silver mining in the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone, presented by the Canadian company Dalradian Gold. Considered a test case for other prospective sites in the vicinity, the company has been carrying out exploration work in the Sperrins since 2009. A public inquiry into the mining proposals has been announced.

Last year, activists outside the Crown Estate Commission in London protest against gold mining in the Sperrin Mountains in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The role of the Crown Estate in facilitating this work in Northern Ireland has been the subject of some controversy in recent months, sparking protests and demands for a halt to the awarding of new concessions. The estate, which also holds rights to gold and silver deposits in England, Scotland and Wales, grants options to take mining leases once planning conditions are met.

The issue of ownership of the gold and silver deposits was raised by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, which last year formally requested the estate to consider divesting its current rights to the gold deposits. gold and silver in Northern Ireland.

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A crown estate spokesperson said: “We deliver 100% of our net profits to HM Treasury. The Crown Domain does not grant exploration rights for the extraction of gold or silver.

A spokesperson for the Department of Economy said: ‘The Department considers its current licensing regime to be sufficiently effective. In over 50 years of operation, there has been no evidence of environmental, economic or other issues that would warrant a necessary moratorium while the review is ongoing.

“The ministry is therefore not considering suspension of licensing at this time, as there is no indication that this would benefit the review process and would most likely be subject to a legal challenge. It is also important to note that the suspension of mining licenses by the ministry would not affect the exploration or extraction of gold or silver, as these are authorized by the commissioners of the domains of the crown.

Lynn A. Saleh