Community leaders in Co Leitrim say they feel “under siege” after learning that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan intends to grant a prospecting licence for gold and silver in part of the county which had previously been targeted for fracking.
Jamie Murphy, chairman of lobby group Love Leitrim, said many locals who had been involved in a successful six-year campaign to ban fracking were unaware that they were now facing a threat “from another carbon-heavy extractive industry” .
The Minister recently published notice of his intention to grant a prospecting licence to Omagh-based company Flintridge Resources for 47 named townlands in two separate areas, close to Manorhamilton. According to the department, objections can be submitted up to November 6th.
Members of Love Leitrim say the timeframe is too short given the difficulty of informing and mobilising people during a pandemic.
Leitrim farmer Eddie Mitchell, who was also involved in the campaign against fracking, a method of shale gas extraction, said it was “barely believable that the Government would try to impose another heavy extractive industry into north Leitrim without properly informing the public”.
A notice published recently in the Leitrim Observer newspaper advised that the public had 30 days to submit objections to the Geoscience Regulation Office (GSRO). Mr Mitchell said he was not reassured by a declaration in the notice that a prospecting licence permits the holder to explore for mineral deposits but not to mine, and that any permitted activity would be “non-invasive” and have “minimal environmental impact”.
A decision to grant a prospecting licence was a key political decision, he said.
“A mineral prospecting licence is the decision that underlines all future authorisations. It’s the end of political oversight and the beginning of regulation, once that decision is made. It confirms extraction rights on licence holders over whatever minerals are found. This is what mining companies use as the basis to get investment.”
He said that while many people were only learning about the Minister’s intention “nobody will allow gold mining in Leitrim without a fight. We should be able to expect more from Eamon Ryan.”
Mr Murphy said it made no sense for the Government to issue a prospecting licence “in the middle of a climate and biodiversity emergency”.
“This is a very worrying time for the community for many reasons,” he said. “The mining process is very carbon-heavy and not compatible with building a sustainable future or with efforts to be carbon-neutral.”
‘Stop this industry’
Urging people in Leitrim to contact politicians to outline their fears, Mr Murphy said: “We do have a window of opportunity to stop this industry from gaining a foothold. Our call to the Minister and the Government is not to issue this licence.” He said there were real fears about the impact of mining on the landscape and on water supplies and air.
A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications said a prospecting licence did not confer any right to mine.
“Mining requires additional licences and permissions including planning permission from the relevant Local Authority and an Integrated Pollution Control Licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, ” he said. “Both of these permissions provide for public consultation.”
The spokesman said that, over the past 70 years, the department had issued many thousands of prospecting licences “of which only a small number have ultimately led to mining operations”.
The department said that Flintridge Resources sought to explore for gold, silver and base metals within north Co Leitrim in an area where its sister company, Omagh Minerals Ltd, had previously held licences from March 2014 to October 2020. The department said it was unaware of any complaints from the public in respect of Omagh Minerals’ activities .
A staff member at Flintridge Resources in Omagh referred all media queries to Mario Stifano, the chief executive of its parent company Galantas Gold in Toronto. It had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication.