A new Government policy on mining and mineral exploration risks degrading the environment and damaging people’s health in communities across Ireland, campaigners have claimed.
Communities Against the Injustice of Mining (Caim), which describes itself as an all-island campaign group, said the draft policy has “abandoned scores of local communities to the threat of mining destruction”.
Speaking at an online public meeting on Wednesday evening, Emma Karran said demand for minerals was “exploding”, yet communities had few rights to oppose mining in their areas despite a long legacy of environmental problems.
“The big question is how does society wean itself off fossil fuels without turning an increasing number of areas into mining sacrifice zones, with damaging consequences for people and ecology of areas,” she said. “Mining for minerals should be a last resort rather than the first.”
A Government policy published last December aims to ensure “a stable, robust and transparent” regulatory framework that supports “environmentally sustainable mineral exploration and mining”.
It also seeks to maximise the contribution that “sustainable exploration and mining can make to our society” and the transition to “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through the supply of the raw materials necessary for our sustainable development”.
Fidelma O’Kane of Save Our Sperrins, an environmental interest group, said the Government has adopted a policy of declaring that Ireland is “open for business” by giving tax breaks and collaborating to overcome hard-won regulatory provisions.
She said Government officials attended a major mining conference recently in Canada where Ireland was described as having a “favourable policy with strong Government commitment”, with “streamlined permitting procedures” and “pragmatic environment requirements”.
The Save Our Sperrins group has been campaigning against Canadian mining company Dalradian Gold, which has been working in the Co Tyrone area since 2009, undertaking exploratory work and testing. The company also holds prospecting licences elsewhere in Tyrone, as well as in Derry and Donegal.
Ms O’Kane said many are alarmed over the use of cyanide solution in the gold-extraction process and the risk of contamination of the water supply with cyanide or heavy metals.
Dalradian, however, has said it is “completely confident” that anything discharged back into the environment will be at safe and proper levels.
The company argues that gold deposits in the area represent an opportunity that will create 350 direct jobs, as well as fostering other indirect employment in the area.
Government departments have argued that Ireland will need a “sustainable” and low carbon mining sector for materials such as lithium which is used in the development of electric vehicle batteries.
The Department of Enterprise also says a thriving mining sector has the ability to create important regional employment.