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Apologies for mineral firms as State scrambles to end drill delay


Stock photo: Thinkstock
Stock photo: Thinkstock

The Government has apologised to Ireland’s minerals-exploration industry as fresh details emerged of a legislative foul-up that has stopped new drilling here.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) said it recognised the “significant impact” the issue is having on the industry.

The problem stems from fresh legal advice to the effect that a piece of European legislation, relating to environmental impact assessments (EIAs), does in fact cover mineral exploration drilling, where previously the Department had believed the drilling activities were not covered.

The effect of this has been to remove from the Department the ability to authorise relevant drilling projects – causing delays for companies’ programmes.

The Department is racing to restore its power to provide authorisation, saying this work has been given the “highest possible priority” within its exploration and mining division.

In the meantime, companies have been told that they need to go through the standard planning process involving county councils and/or An Bord Pleanála, under the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2018. A letter issued by the DCCAE says: “Subject to legal and policy approval, the aim is that the EIA process for mineral exploration deep drilling will be fully incorporated into DCCAE’s remit and removed from Planning and Development Legislation”.

The Department needs to amend Irish law to get back the ability to authorise projects.

“This is a complex area and it is likely to take several months before it can be transposed and operational. We realise that this is having a significant impact on the industry,” the letter, written by a senior official in the Department, says.

“In the meantime I wish to reiterate that the Department is continuing to explore all available legal avenues with a view to resolving these issues in both the long and the short term. We apologise for the delay in clarifying the situation but we have been exploring possible options and find that the situation is as set out above.”

The issue is causing disquiet in the exploration industry as delays to projects tend to push up costs. The Department said that until the law is changed, companies can apply to a local authority for a declaration that an environmental impact assessment is not needed.

The minerals exploration sector here has seen a substantial uplift in activity in recent years.

Exploration for zinc has been a particularly noteworthy sector – with global giant Glencore having reactivated its exploration work at a project at Pallasgreen in Limerick.

Ireland has been a major exporter of zinc for many years via the Tara Mines project at Navan in Co Meath.

That project is operated by Swedish firm Boliden.

Irish Independent

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