Boliden Tara Mines – which operates the huge Co Meath mine – is seeking permission to finally extract ore that was once the subject of one of Ireland’s longest-running corporate legal battles.
The Swedish-owned company has applied to Meath County Council for permission to resume underground mining at the Nevinstown ore body, the closest section of the zinc resource to the surface at the Meath complex.
The Nevinstown resource became the subject of a high-profile legal battle when its then owner, Bula Resources, went into liquidation in 1984. The subsequent battle for control of the resource played out over the following 30 years.
Tara Mines is Europe’s largest operating zinc and lead mine, with more than 80 million tonnes of ore mined there since it opened in 1977. It was reported earlier this year that the company is planning a €44m investment at the mine that could extend its life by at least a decade. Two million tonnes of ore remain in the Nevinstown ore body and will be mined at an average rate of 230,000 tonnes a year, the company said.
A rich seam of lead and zinc had been discovered near Navan in the early 1970s. Tara Mines was set up and went into production with an underground mine that was controlled by Finnish company Outokumpu. The much smaller adjacent Nevinstown portion of the site was located under land that came under the control of Bula, in which the State received a share. Bula planned an opencast mine but failed to bring its mine to production before going into liquidation. The company began litigation against Tara and the Minister for Energy. The case was in and out of the courts over subsequent decades, with one particular High Court hearing running for a then record 277 days.
In 2002, Tara Mines finally completed the acquisition of the Nevinstown ore body for €35m, following a High Court ruling that cleared the way for the sale. Much of the resource was mined following a previous permission in 2004 but that has since expired. Now, under the current planning application, Boliden is seeking to mine the last of the once Bula-owned resource.
Meanwhile, a government economic review of the geoscience sector – which includes the mining industry – found that it was worth €3.3bn to the economy in 2016. Including indirect employment, it found the geoscience sector contributed 25,000 jobs. The report, published last week, found that extraction of lead and zinc is worth more than €300m to the economy and directly employs almost 600 people. The two zinc-lead underground mines in Ireland, Tara and another mine at Lisheen, account for 24pc of European zinc mine output and 7pc of European lead mine output.