The Ring of Gullion. Credit: Mary_Mac_82

Local communities work to stop Northern Irish mining boom

As part of a special series, META looks at how different cases of environmental injustice are causing inequality around the world.

Mining expansion is met with huge public opposition all over the world, from mega-mining expansion in Latin America to plans for lithium mining in the Spanish city of Cáceres. Today META turns the focus on Northern Ireland where 5 companies currently hold 10 mineral prospecting licences for different location across the country. 4 companies have lodged applications for 6 mining licences.

Northern Ireland map showing both prospecting licences issued (dark blue) and mining applications lodged (light blue).
Source: Northern Ireland Department for the Economy

We take a closer look at 3 cases where local communities are organising themselves to protect the beauty spots being scoped out by mining companies.

Credit: Daragh Burns

1) Slieve Gallion

Local residents and nature lovers are sounding the alarm over the potential threat to the much-loved Slieve Gallion mountain in Northern Ireland’s County Derry. Slieve Gallion is part of the famous Sperrin mountain range and is recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Walkabout Resources Ltd – a mining company based in Western Australia – has a ‘joint venture agreement’ with Koza UK – the British subsidiary of a Turkish gold mining firm – which holds a mineral prospecting licence (MPL) – meaning they can explore the area for minerals. The company revealed in June that they had discovered cobalt-silver in the Slieve Gallion area.

Walkabout Resources has now sought the help of Blytheweigh, a London-based PR company, to help them engage with the local community. In an email, the firm has informed local councillors that it plans to hold a special meeting in order to answer their questions.

Members of the local community are extremely worried about the impact mining at Slieve Gallion would have on the environment. They are raising awareness about the plans to prospect for minerals in Slieve Gallion and they have started a petition to gather support. There are also plans to organise a public meeting. More information can be found on the Facebook page ‘Factfinding Slieve Gallion’.

Credit: Gordon Dunn. A detailed view of a Dalradian drill rig taken on 19 July 2018. Residents are concerned about the safety of the site, pointing out that the security fence has collapsed and that the site was left unmanned leaving the rig accessible to anyone, and to livestock.

2) Greencastle

Just 20km away, another global firm – the Canadian company Dalradian – is seeking planning permission to develop a gold mine in the Greencastle area of County Tyrone.

Prospective drilling has already begun and the Cooperate Against Mining In Omagh (CAMIO) group has raised its concerns about investigative drilling that has been taking place just 360m from the Glencordial reservoir, crucial for supplying water to over 21,000 people in the nearby town of Omagh.

The operation – which local people first became aware of on 1 July – involves ‘gold cyanidation’, a controversial process of using sodium cyanide to dissolve gold that can lead to water and soil contamination.

In a statement the group said they fear that the use of sodium cyanide could result in “permanent damage to our water supply”.

Locals have been campaigning against Dalradian’s presence in the area since 2016.

There have been several cyanide-related disasters in the EU with the worst to date at a gold mine in Baia Mare (Romania) in 2000 when 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-rich waste was leaked into the surrounding waterways cutting off drinking water supplies for 2.5 million people in neighbouring Hungary and Serbia. Hundreds of tonnes of fish were killed in the Szamos-Tisza-Danube River system.

Gold cyanidation is regulated by EU rules on industrial processes and water protection. But a call from the European Parliament in 2010 for proposals for a law that would see a general ban on cyanide in mining in the EU has not yet been followed up by the European Commission. Following protests from activists and local communities, in Greece, the Supreme Court banned the use of cyanide in mining due to its expected devastating impact.

A spokesperson from CAMIO told META:

We as a group are implacably opposed to mining in the Sperrins. With calculated cool, calm deliberation CAMIO will challenge Dalradian and any other mining company who come here intending to mine. We will do this using every means available; in the courts, in the political arena, in the financial, agriculture, mining, arts and health sectors simultaneously with outrageous activism on the ground, in the air and on social media. Through education in our local communities, schools, colleges and churches we will build a powerful and effective collaboration of social networks here and abroad of community organisations and institutions to resist mining in this area.

The Ring of Gullion. Credit: Mary_Mac_82

3) Ring of Gullion

Last year Conroy Gold lodged an application for prospecting licences to hunt for gold in areas of South Armagh, in the Ring of Gullion area – despite the fact that the area has been protected by EU nature laws since 2000 when it was designated a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ as part of the EU-wide ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected areas.

Natura 2000 areas are designated under EU nature protection laws to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Nature-damaging activities such as mining are supposed to be heavily restricted on these sites.

The Ring of Gullion has also been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest under the British government’s conservation scheme as a result of its unique geology and biodiversity.

The ‘Save Our South Armagh’ campaign group said that during a public consultation on the application for the licences there was a “lack of information made available to the public” which they say was a direct contravention of the Aarhus Convention Agreement of 2001 which “specifically guarantees the rights of access to information and public participation in decision-making”.