State should reevaluate plans to grant Galway mineral exploration licence

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

July 12th, 2019

An Taisce has called on the Department for Climate Action to protect Connemara’s natural amenities by re-evaluating its intention to issue a licence for mineral exploration in Co Galway to a Canadian company.

The Department has said that it “intends” to grant a licence to Ontario-based firm MOAG Copper Gold Resources to explore for metal, gold, and silver in several townlands in Galway including Boolagare, Callow and Dolan.

The proposed exploration would take place in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and proposed Natural Heritage Areas (pNHA) including Murvey Machair, the Connemara Bog Complex, and Dogs Bay.

In a submission to the Department, An Taisce expressed concern about ambiguities surrounding MOAG’s application ranging from its public consultation process, the extent of exploration activity as well as the type of minerals that are going to be explored for.

The submission also states that there are “significant legal questions” to be raised about the lack of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the current mineral exploration licencing regime in terms of screening for the suitability of the location of exploration areas.

An Taisce also raised concern over the screening process for this application under EU Directives to assess the potential impact on the environment, species, and habitats.

Ian Lumley, An Taisce’s Advocacy Officer, said that by allowing the company to explore for minerals in West Connemara, the State is implying its support for future mining activities on ecologically significant areas.

“The granting of an Exploration License is a de facto acceptance by the State of the suitability of the area for mining extraction,” he said.

“It clearly confers an expectation by the licensee investing in the exploration work that the State supports development in mining in the location identified, and that any mining license application will be treated favourably by the State and subject only to regulatory process.”

A petition objecting to the granting of any licence “on the grounds of threats to the health and wellbeing of the natural environment” has gained nearly 5,000 signatures since its launch earlier this month.

In its River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021, the State acknowledged the potential adverse influence of mining activities on the aquatic environment.

The plan emphasises that exceedance of hazardous chemicals in the water mostly arises due to “the presence of naturally occurring metals in known mineral-rich areas, particularly where mining has been carried out”.

In a Statement issued to The Green News, a spokesperson for the Department of Climate Action said that Connemara Park fell under safeguarding regulations devised for national parks, under which no prospecting activity is allowed on those areas.

An Taisce, however, has said that unless those protective measures are extended to include “the full area of the 12 Bens as well as Roundstone Bog”, which covers part of exploration licence area, Connemara Park’s environs remain susceptible to environmental damage.

Last week, a Green Party politician also urged the State to refuse MOAG’s application to protect the environment. Galway City Councillor Pauline O’Reilly warned that the laws around mining need to be bolstered to safeguard the environment.

The Department has said that three separate State consents are required in order to start mining and the process provides for extensive public consultation to ensure environmental compliance.

“An Integrated Pollution Control License is required from the Environmental Protection Agency, planning permission is required from the Local Authority (including full environmental impact assessment), and a Mining License is required from the Minister for Climate Action,” it said.

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Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.