Gold mining project threatens livelihood of communities in Northern Ireland

One of the promises of the Green New Deal for Europe (GNDE) has been that ‘the GNDE will improve our quality of life by guaranteeing clean air and water;…restoring biodiversity to our communities and by reducing the number of hours we work each week’, however, extractive and mining industries in Europe and throughout the world threaten to undermine this promise, and the welfare of our communities.

In a Conference motion ‘Duty to Defend the Environment’ the Irish Congress of Trade Unions noted that proposals to mine gold in the Sperrin Mountains would cause massive environmental pollution to an area of outstanding natural beauty, and threaten the entire Foyle River system.

Threats from extractive industries

In the North West of Ireland, gold mining companies are prospecting in areas such as the Sperrin Mountains in Derry and Tyrone, and in Inishowen in Donegal. The communities in this part of Ulster have become very concerned that the toxicity produced by these mining activities could severely impact the health of residents by leaking into the rivers, lakes and soil in the region.

In the Sperrins, a Canadian-registered mining corporation, Dalradian, is trying to gain permission to construct a mine in order to extract 40 tonnes of gold over twenty years. In Inishowen – a neighbouring county – Arkle Resources is applying for a license extension to continue its prospecting work.

Arkle, which is a Dublin-registered company listed on the London Stock Exchange, has also announced intentions to drill for gold in an area covering the south eastern counties of Wexford and Wicklow. The health risks posed by mining are therefore not a localised problem, but one spreading across the entire country.

In December of last year, at the Derry Human Rights and Arts Festival, a spokesperson for the grassroots movement, ‘Save Our Sperrin’, outlined the dangers of gold mining:

  • Physical damage to the Sperrins’ landscape, which is a valued social amenity, tourist attraction and means of growing food, as well as a ‘waste rock’ projected to reach a height of 17 stories
  • Toxic pollution from cyanide processing and a mercury smelting furnace
  • Acid rain as a result of discarded mine rock
  • Arsenic, nickel, chromium and cadmium entering the food chain in dangerously high quantities
  • Carbon emissions from a yearly consumption of 3.3 million litres of fossil fuels to power the goldmine’s operations
  • The removal of thirty acres of peat land, which acts as a natural carbon capture source

The Green New Deal for Europe offers solutions to destructive, extractive, industries

Extractive industries, such as mining, are too often entirely indifferent to the impact that their work has on the communities and the environments in which they are operating. This is because they are not the ones suffering its consequences.

The ones who are affected are those whose lives are rooted in the community, and in many cases, whose families have been there for generations. Businesses must be made to consider and prevent the unintended effects of their activities, or forfeit their right to do business,

One of the proposals to bring about this type of change is Green Public Works, part of the Green New Deal for Europe.

This is an investment programme that aims to decarbonise Europe’s economy, reverse biodiversity loss, guarantee decent jobs for local people, and harmonise economic aims with environmental justice so that mining projects, such as those in Ulster, are held to account and that the wellbeing of residents whose communities are most likely to be effected by these type of operations are guaranteed and prioritised above all else.

Photo (C) Ashley Dace

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