MORE than 30 people attended an online meeting last week to voice opposition to plans for mineral prospecting in East Clare, writes Fiona McGarry.
The gathering heard that a county-wide ban should be sought, in the same way that fracking had previously been prohibited in Clare.
The virtual event was organised by the newly-formed Keep Tulla Untouched and hosted by co-founder Jacintha Van Roij.
Ms Van Roij, who described herself as a small-holder in the area, said that while a representative of Minco Ireland, the company currently seeking a prospecting licence, had been invited to attend, no response had been received.
Farmers, public representatives and environmental campaigners alike were alarmed earlier this month at news that Department of the Environment intended to grant a licence to the Navan-based company for the prospecting of minerals, including silver and gold ore.
After a political and public outcry, the Department extended the submission period to January 23 and an emergency motion was carried at Clare County Council’s recent meeting, calling on Minister Eamon Ryan to refuse the licence.
As the Department continues its deliberations, a majority of those who addressed last week’s meeting vowed to do all in their power to oppose any moves to prospect or mine in the townlands in Tulla and Bunratty Upper.
Councillor Pat Hayes said he was concerned as a landowner and local representative.
“I’m extremely disappointed that, as part of public notification process, public representatives weren’t informed about events affecting our community,” he said.
“We found out through the knowledge of people like yourself who brought it to our attention.”
The Fianna Fáil member was also critical of the publication of the Department’s notice of intention to grant the prospecting licence.
“I take issue with the underhand way it was announced, a week before Christmas, with a [submissions] closing date in January,” he said.
“That didn’t give much time to the public. It really was an eye-opener. At our January 10 County Council meeting, we tabled an emergency motion asking the minister not to grant the licence and the minister gave an extended period of consultation. The motion was supported by all and Councillor Donna McGettigan had a key role in supporting me and other councillors.
“I always look at environmental issues as much as possible. I stand very proud of how we as a council banned fracking and that it became a national issue, as many other counties followed
“We need to move in the same way on this. I live in the heart of SAC, NHA, SPC and Hen Harrier protection area. On the one hand, we’re handing out grants for protection and at the same time looking at mining and prospecting, and we don’t know what the impact will be.
“The more we look into background of companies, the less information we find about what they intend to do.”
Councillor Hayes said that agreement had been reached with the council executive that future public notices be provided directly to elected members.
“We are your representatives and your voice and we need to be clearly aware of issues affecting the environment,” he said.
“Hopefully, the minister will not grant licence. We are trying to push that home to a lot of people in political circles. As a landowner and a representative, I don’t think environmental programmes and mining and prospecting go hand in hand.”
A highly-detailed presentation was made by Emmanuela Ferrari and Melina Sharp of Future Proof Clare (FPC). Ms Ferrari outlined the activities of the mining sector in Ireland and highlighted the exponential increase in demand for minerals for use in mobile technology, ICT, the automobile industry and other sectors.
Ms Sharp described the dangers of zinc and lead mining and the environmental and health effects. She expressed concerns that national policy had paved the way for “a land grab by foreign companies”.
Among those attending the meeting was Gerry Loftus, founder of The Rural Ireland Organisation. The North Mayo man described himself as “shocked and flabbergasted to think somebody could go in and do mining on protected habitats”.
He suggested that, in light of the potential threat to lands designated by Europe, MEPs should be lobbied. “This is way way bigger than local politicians,” he said.
“If a Green minister for the environment has decided to issue licences, other TDs will support it. This is awful serious for the whole of this country. We’re talking about climate change and biodiversity. We need to get a massive movement going from different counties.”
Ms Ferrari noted that CAIM (Communities Against the Injustice of Mining) is bringing different countries together and agreed the next step should be to contact MEPs.
Ms Van Roij said Keep Tulla Untouched has affiliated and will attend a meeting next month.
“This is shell-shocking,” she said. “We need a national response and to talk to Europe.”
Co-founder, Christine O’Brien outlined how she farms a large portion of land on an NHA.
“We are so restricted even for organic farming practice and have nesting hen harriers,” she outlined.
“At one point, we had a tractor slide and slip of scraw rolled back. We were fined €1,000, so it’s absolutely baffling that someone can drill metres into our land. What has shocked me more is to learn that prospecting has already been done in these areas for years. This must be a nationwide response. I don’t believe they’ll prospect without the intention of mining.”
Carol Gallagher of People Before Profit in Tyrone, who is part of an active cross-border campaign to raise awareness of the impact of mining also addressed the meeting.
Ms Gallagher said that her native area was “surrounded by onslaught of prospecting and mining”.
“I know that shock and horror that you’re facing into,” she said. “It’s very raw and very real. It’s a horrible thing. You’re very much at the beginning of a long and difficult journey.”
The Parliamentary Assistant to Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne, told the meeting that support would be provided in raising the issue in the European Parliament.
“Reaching out to MEPs is a good step,” said Leigh Brosnan. “Letter to ministers can be an exercise in futility. Rarely, will you receive any sort of satisfaction. Parliamentary Questions get better results. I am happy to forward your concerns to Chris McManus, Sinn Fein MEP.”
Ms Brosnan also advised allyship with other groups including Macra na Feirme, IFA and tourism organisations.
“It’s a wider issue,” she said. “There are broader churches of people than environmental activists who need to get involved.”
Tommy O’Loughlin from Quin told the meeting he attended in order to “give another view”.
Mr O’Loughlin who lives in the Kilbricken project area, where zinc and lead have been discovered, outlined how he works in the mineral exploration industry.
He stressed that he has nothing to do with Minco, but said the company cannot liaise with the community until they are granted a licence.
“If Minco are granted licence, exploration companies will always engage in every way possible,” he said.
“The process of soil sampling involves consent from farmers. It’s very unintrusive.”
Mr O’Loughlin acknowledged that rogue companies exist elsewhere in the world, but said there are “good mining stories” too.
Councillor Hayes said he would continue working with fellow local authority colleagues.
“There is no political agenda,” he said. ‘We are there to support the county and look after environment and I appreciate the information and knowledge of those who organised this event.”