Politicians from all parties in Galway West have expressed opposition to a gold and silver mining bid in protected Connemara habitats.
Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív, Independent TD Catherine Connolly, and Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton, who is chairwoman of the Oireachtas climate action committee, have said they would oppose any attempt to license gold and silver mining by a Canadian company which is seeking a prospecting license in areas around Roundstone, Ballyconneely and Ballynahinch.
Minister of state for the Gaeltacht Sean Kyne, who held the junior ministerial brief for natural resources until last autumn, said that while he understood concerns, updated legislation provided for a “very detailed process” on approval for mining.
“I would be very surprised if mining could be licensed in this area,” said Mr Kyne.
Toronto-based MOAG Copper Gold Resources applied last month for a license to test for gold and silver in townlands within the Ballynahinch barony.
The area includes special areas of conservation and proposed Natural Heritage Areas at Murvey Machair, Connemara Bog Complex, and Dogs Bay.
The public had until July 6 to make submissions, and An Taisce is among objectors.
The company, which has not responded to requests for comment, has previously held licences in several areas of Connemara. MOAG Copper Gold Resources states on its website that its prospects at Mace and Murvey in Connemara benefit from “strong government support, excellent infrastructure and positive prior geological assessment”.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action, and Environment has declined to confirm how many submissions have been received, but said that applications are “subject to extensive environmental screening and assessment”.
Junior natural resources minister Sean Canney, an Independent TD, has been delegated to make the decision. His senior minister, Richard Bruton, faced protests in Galway last week.
Mr Ó Cuív, who has warned of an “over-reaction”, agreed with Mr Kyne that it is “very unlikely” that there could be any mining approved, given that the areas applied for by the company in the Ballynahinch barony are designated sensitive habitats.
Ms Naughton has said she would “make every effort to ensure that no license of any variety is granted in this case”, and had made her views known to Mr Bruton.
Ms Connolly has said she had received “many representations” about the prospecting license application and would have “most serious concerns”.Independent TD for Galway West Noel Grealish, who tabled a parliamentary question along with Mr O Cuív on the application, was unavailable for comment.
A campaign group, named ‘Protect Connemara — Keeping Roundstone Bog/Balllyconneely Free from Mining’ has initiated a petition opposing it due to the impact on the environment and tourism.
Its chairwoman, Terri Conroy, said her group believed the Aarhus Directive on access to environmental legislation and justice was already being breached, given the difficulty of obtaining information.
The advertisement notes the minister’s “intention” to grant a prospecting license and says he has determined that the activities are “not likely to have a significant effect on the environment”.
Ms Naughton said she had been told that this was standard wording, which did not mean Mr Bruton would automatically approve an application.Ms Naughton stressed that no application for a mining license had been received, and three separate State consents were required for this stage.
David Horgan, company director of Petrel Resources which is an Irish exploration company, cautioned against an over-reaction, stating that prospecting involved desk-top studies and minimal drilling of holes “a few centimetres in diameter”.
Mr Horgan, who said he was not familiar with the Canadian company, said that there are strict procedures and he would also be very surprised at licensing in a sensitive habitat.
“People are reacting to a non-existent problem,” he said. “There would be more damage done to the environment from run-off from a silage pit.”