As the Fermanagh Herald reports, the Department for the Economy is proposing to grant a licence to a company called Karelian Diamond Resources to prospect for ‘diamonds and base metals’ across a huge area of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
I have several very serious concerns about this proposal
1. We are being given so little information. We do not even know which base metals will be sought, or which areas within this large area will be targeted, so we have no way of knowing what the potential impacts could be to groundwater, rivers streams and loughs, air quality, livestock, wildlife and habitats and to human health. We know that mining is the most damaging industry in the world in terms of its environmental impact, so we have to be very careful about what is permitted in our fragile countryside As the frack-free campaign showed so clearly, we are not prepared for Fermanagh to become a sacrifice zone, with our health, landscape and sustainable businesses made to suffer for the pursuit of corporate profit. At this stage the notification is only of a prospecting licence, but it is common for the Department to give an undertaking at the same time to grant a full mining lease. It is therefore essential that we be given the full details now.
2. There is a serious lack of accountability. As we are all too well aware, at present we have no Minister, no Executive and no functioning Assembly. Normally when such a proposal is made, I would be able to ask my Green Party colleagues in the Assembly, Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey, to ask questions of the Minister and raise issues in committee. I do not think it is appropriate for civil servants to be granting new licences during this period, with no political oversight or scrutiny.
3. We are being denied our rights of consultation and participation. Under the Aarhus Convention, people have the right to participation in decision-making processes that could affect their health and environment. We see no such participation here, only an announcement that the Department intends to go ahead, regardless of our rights or opinions. The 1969 Mineral Development Act, which governs the licensing process, was drawn up at a time when much less was known about the effects of mining upon human and animal health, habitats and our fragile natural world. It assumes that the only consideration is how much can be extracted and how much money can be made. The powers granted to the Department, which it can pass on to a licensee, are very wide and entirely inappropriate to what we know now.
4. The system is not fit for purpose. There should have been a strategic environmental assessment of the whole licensing regime in Northern Ireland, ensuring that it would meet the objectives of enhancing our lives, supporting a sustainable economy and protecting our futures and that of the natural world around us. Instead we have the current system where ad hoc licences are granted and potentially damaging development authorised, often without even requiring planning permission or environmental assessment. This is unacceptable.
5. Our protections are at risk from Brexit. Those environmental protections which we do have almost all come to us via European Union directives. The Westminster government plans to give itself wide powers to alter these, even in relation to devolved matters. Without a unified voice from our elected representatives, without a say in the Brexit talks, these are at risk. This is not the moment to be speculating with our future.
Click here to see the few documents which the Department has made public. I have submitted a Freedom of Information request for further details and trust that Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, which is a statutory consultee, will be doing the same, and scrutinising the proposals very carefully. It will have to act quickly, as the consultation closing date is on 10th November.
Note: There is another licence proposed to be granted, to Flintridge Resources in relation to base metals in an area southeast of Castlederg, including Lough Bradon Forest. All the same points apply to this proposal, and I will write further about this very soon. The relevant documents can be found here.