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Green Party Senator Roisin Garvey has helped secure an extension to the consultation process. Photograph by John Kelly

Opposition grows to Clare mineral prospecting plan


OPPOSITION to mineral prospecting in East Clare has stepped up a gear, now that extra time for public consultation has been secured, writes Fiona McGarry.

Concerns have been voiced by landowners, politicians and environmentalists after the Department of the Environment announced its intention to grant a licence to a Meath-based company for prospecting in parts of Tulla and Bunratty Upper.

Following an intervention by Green Party Senator, Róisín Garvey, the consultation phase has now been extended from January 8 to 23. Political concern over plans by Minco Ireland to prospect for silver and gold ore has been intense; the matter was the subject of a motion at a meeting of Clare County Council.

Sinn Féin’s Deputy Violet Anne Wynne, meanwhile, was sharply critical of the Environment Minister, accusing him of hypocrisy on mineral exploration. People Before Profit has also objected.
To date, more than 1,500 people have signed an online petition and a new group, ‘Keep Tulla Untouched’ has been formed.

Member and local farmer Christine O’Brien of Ardboula, said, “We will be holding a public, online meeting in the very near future and I would urge people to keep an eye on our Facebook page or email keeptullauntouched@gmail.com.”

An objection, running to 93 pages, has been submitted by FPC. The grounds include the timing of the official notice, as well as the environmental impact of the project. A lack of public consultation was also cited.

“FPC began to raise awareness on the 4th of January 2022 and made contact with the first landowners on the 7th of January which was the first time they had heard of any prospecting in the area, ever,” the objection stated.

“The community was shocked and dismayed to find out that the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications was planning to give a new prospecting licence but that prospecting had been carried out on their lands by numerous companies, over quite a few decades including the last decade.”

The FPC objection includes a petition, with almost 1,2000 signatures from as far afield as Australia. Concerns were also voiced about the impact on protected landscapes, including a number of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), NHAs and the Slieve Aughty SPA.

“The organisation cited fears over potential emissions and the impact of any future mining on farming and tourism, as well as on water, air, biodiversity and soil quality.”

Melina Sharp of FPC said, “The rights to the mineral reserves stored in Irish land are being given away to multinational corporations for pittance. The result of mining will be untold damage to Irish aquifers and already dwindling soil reserves.”

The row has turned up the heat significantly on the Green Party. Deputy Wynne was critical of any possibility of future mining in East Clare and launched an attack on Minister Eamon Ryan.

“It seems his ethics have changed in line with his hat,” she said. “This is Green hypocrisy at its finest”.

In relation to public consultation, the Kilrush woman said the process seemed to be “pushed through with the intention of not attracting too much attention”.

Senator Róisín Garvey, who secured the extension of time for submissions, said, “It’s important that people feel they have ample time to be allowed engage in public consultation process. In particular the communities that would be most effected potentially.

“It is important that people realise the Minister had no power to interfere with due process around planning or procedures. The focus should be on policy improvement as it is these Government policies ministers have to adhere to.”

Councillor Pat Hayes welcomed the decision to extend time.

“We must be informed on all of the risks and opportunities,” he said. “We need to protect what we have.”

Theresa O’Donohoe of Clare Environmental Network voiced anger at the handling of the consultation process.

Theresa O’Donohoe has criticised the way contentious application are sneaked in around holidays Like Christmas. Photograph by John Kelly

“I detest the way Christmas is used to slip applications through,” she said. “It’s a pattern that works because people are busy, NGOs and elected reps are off. Just as others have worked around the clock in the past week, I have spent hours working voluntarily during numerous Christmas periods because those paid are on holidays.”

“We need a compulsory extension to applications, declarations or any other format of decision making that falls around holidays.

“The whole process needs reform in order to include how to ensure that communities and elected representatives are properly informed and invited to participate.”

A map of the townlands affected is available at www.gov.ie/en/publication/507ce-prospecting-licence-notices/ The notice states that, where possible, the details will also be made available at Ennis Garda Station, Clare County Council and the Geological Survey of Ireland in Dublin.

In the notice published last month, the prospecting activity is described as “mineral exploration involving desktop studies, geo-chemistry, surface geophysics and drilling”.

The proposed licence authorises exploration for mineral deposits, but not the mining of any minerals.

“The activities permissible under a licence are, in general, non-invasive and of minimal environmental impact,” the notice stated.

“The Minister has assessed the exploration programme proposed by the company and has determined that the activities are not likely to have a significant effect on the environment.”

The Geoscience Regulation Office can be emailed at gsro@decc.gov.ie. The address is Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, 29-31 Adelaide Road, Dublin, D02 X285. The phone number is 01 6782668.

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