Concern lithium exploration in Co Wicklow may threaten ‘one of Ireland most beautiful places’

Green Party accused of hypocrisy in allowing lithium prospecting when oil and gas exploration licences are banned

Two exploration companies are in the process of determining the extent of potential lithium deposits in large areas of Co Wicklow, prompting local concerns about potential environmental impacts.

In response to the latest licence being issued, Fine Gael local election candidate Peter Stapleton said the ban on exploration for oil and gas should be widened to include lithium as the restriction instigated by the Green Party would otherwise be hypocritical. He said he was concerned that Co Wicklow, “one of Ireland’s most beautiful places”, was being targeted for a possibly “massive lithium mine”.

Mr Stapleton was commenting after it was confirmed that the Department of Energy and Natural Resources had granted Blackstairs Lithium Company, a subsidiary of Chinese firm Ganfeng Lithium Corporation, a licence to prospect in 150 town lands over 50 square kilometres across southwest Wicklow and Carlow.

Lithium is regarded as an essential metal in the transition to green energy. Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable and widely used in personal electronics such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. They are also used in electric vehicles, electric bicycles and scooters, and in backup storage for solar power.


Lithium is the lightest metal on the planet, and is also used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Demand for lithium is currently growing at 30 per cent a year, with prices having surged more than 10-fold since 2020 to record highs of almost $80,000 (€73,998) per tonne.

Significant lithium deposits in granite in Co Wicklow were known to be present, but exploring for the metal in hard rocks has only been viable since 2018.

“Lithium is a valuable commodity but so too is natural beauty and tourism in Wicklow. Minister Ryan is wrong to allow speculators to run their drilling machines through our county’s bowels in a hunt to find a massive lithium mine,” Mr Stapleton added.

A comment has been sought from Mr Ryan about the concerns raised.

Neither Wicklow County Council nor local councillors have been briefed by the department on the plans or impact, according to Mr Stapleton, but exploration is expected to start at Moylisha Hill soon.

Speaking at a Wicklow County Council meeting last week, Independent councillor Mary Kavanagh said she had been contacted by local residents raising concerns about the potential impact of exploration for lithium on local water supplies.

“The drilling is going to go on for about 10 months, involving two diamond drill rigs operating for 12 hours a day, six days a week,” she said. “Any exploratory drilling will affect the purity of the water supply, not just on Moylisha Hill, but across the southeast region. This pristine supply is vital for domestic use, agricultural use, industrial use, local recreational use and for tourism. Protecting this water is in keeping with Coillte’s aim of serving climate, nature, wood and people.”

Arkle Resources, an exploration company led by John Teeling, announced in January of last year that it had found lithium-bearing rock in granite in its Mine River Block on the Wexford-Wicklow border.

“These are exciting results,” Mr Teeling said. “We have discovered lithium on our licences. We found the rock type needed, pegmatites, and in the pegmatites found lithium and other indicator minerals. This opens compelling new opportunities for our Mine River Block. Prospecting will resume in the near future.”

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times