Communities targeted by mining companies say they are not getting a fair hearing as the Government pushes for new business in metals, minerals and gold.
Latest figures show 26pc of the land area of Ireland is under prospecting licences and most of the rest is up for grabs, much of it at reduced “incentive” fees.
Currently, 47 companies hold 541 licences, 76 of them held by Canadian firm Group Eleven Resources, which is exploring the world’s largest undeveloped zinc deposit in Co Limerick.
The Government is helping the company locate the richest concentrations of zinc through Geological Survey Ireland’s airborne geophysical mapping capability.
Minister for Natural Resources Seán Canney, who has promoted mining at the world’s largest mine industry fair in Canada, said recently Ireland would soon be “the most detailed mapped country in the world”.
But communities say it is happening without proper consultation or a level playing field for objectors.
The main legislation also dates back to 1940. A new Mineral Development Act was passed in 2017 but has not been commenced.
Protect Connemara has opposed a succession of prospecting licences for gold and silver in west Galway, citing likely damage to the iconic landscape.
Spokeswoman Áine Ní Cheannabháin said the group had been dismayed to discover one of 27 prospecting licences opened to competition last Friday was a licence to which they previously objected and that was later revoked for unrelated reasons.
Heim Ebhrecht is part of the Cavan Mining Objection Group that opposed zinc, copper, gold and silver prospecting. While the licence holders surrendered them last year, they could also be revived.
“We need a national discussion on mining and if it is really what we want for Ireland, because at the moment the only debate is when a small community group tries to argue against a big mining company. There is no balance in that,” he said.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment stated: “Mineral prospecting and mining in Ireland are subject to robust regulatory and environmental protection regimes.”
It said regulations were “at an advanced stage of drafting” to start bringing the Minerals Development Act 2017 into effect.