The communities in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains in the north of Ireland are under threat from a multinational goldmining company Dalradian Gold Ltd. But despite the resources the mining company has to hand, local people are standing up for their communities and their campaign is showing progressive signs.
The campaign against gold mining in the Sperrin Mountains has been underway since local communities became aware of Dalradian’s plan to mine. The company first arrived in the area in 2009. The campaign then intensified when Dalradian submitted its formal mining request in November 2017. And despite experiencing setbacks, the campaign to protect this community from the damage caused by mining is going from strength to strength.
In January 2019, police arrested local campaigner Cormac McAleer following a dispute with the driver of a waste truck removing waste from the proposed goldmine site. Then in February, campaigners were dealt a blow in the courtroom when they lost a judicial review against the goldmine company. This was followed by worrying news in June, as police contacted campaigners to tell them to increase their security as death threats had been made against them. However, none of these incidents derailed the campaign in any way.
The campaigners remain undeterred. In May this year they saw they had significant local support when anti-mining campaigner Emmet McAleer, became the first candidate to be elected at the local council elections. More importantly this was achieved in an area that has always voted along clear traditional political lines in the past. So his election shows the depth of support their campaign has.
On 13 August, the goldmine company announced it would no longer use cyanide in the goldmining process. The use and local storage of cyanide has been a cause of major concern for local people. However, campaigners said they were ‘sceptical’ of such a move as they felt it would be reintroduced at a later stage. In any case it shows the effect a strong local campaign can have.
More recently on 5 November this year, campaigner Fidelma O’Kane was successful in the Belfast High Court. O’Kane took a judicial review against the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for a Discharge Consent it granted to Dalradian. This Consent allowed the company discharge nine heavy metals — arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, nickel and iron — into the local Owenkillew river. Because of its freshwater pearl mussels, salmon spawning and otters this river is designated as a Special Area of Conservation.
And the campaign against pollutant goldmines isn’t just local, it’s international. Campaigners were buoyed by recent news that Eldorado Gold Certej goldmine in Romania was blocked. This goldmine also proposed using cyanide in the extraction process. The environment in Romania has suffered greatly from polluting goldmine companies. In January 2000, Baia Mare suffered a cyanide leak which wiped out 80% of the local fish population.
The Rosia Montana copper mine used cyanide in the 1970s, so a nearby village was evacuated and flooded to store its cyanide-contaminated waste. It has been submerged under toxic waters ever since. The communities in the Sperrins are very conscious of this and are determined it will not happen here.
Additionally, the campaign group Save Our Sperrins (SOS), are forming international alliances with other ‘earth protectors’. People from Papua New Guinea, Central America, Turkey and all over Asia are defending their communities from the damage the mining industry can inflict.
Earth strike rally
Both SOS and fellow campaigners in Campaign Against Mining in Omagh (CAMIO), are participating in the global Earth Strike rally on 29 November. They’re doing to to stand in solidarity with the rest of the world and to demonstrate locally how a toxic goldmine is related to climate change. As stated on their campaign social media account:
“Locally, communities are threatened with the introduction of toxic extractive industries like fracking and gold-mining.”
They are reminding local organisations of the damage a goldmine could do to their community. This is particularly important as the mining industry in general is responsible for 20% of global carbon emissions. Campaigners want to encourage people in the Sperrins area to stand together and to have their voices heard.
The campaign goes on
And while they have scored some victories recently it still doesn’t mean the struggle is over. This mining company will do all it can to commence mining in the area and local campaigners have already witnessed testing being carried out for gold at sites nearby. But this matters little, as campaigners continue to oppose all stages of Dalradian’s planning permission.
Very hopeful signs
The experience of campaigners at Eldorado Gold Certej in Romania shows what can be achieved when a community stands together. This community in the Sperrins is resilient and it has the community’s best interests at heart. While there may be difficult times ahead, the future of this campaign certainly looks bright.