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Council supports calls for public inquiry into Sperrin gold mining operation

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Council supports calls for public inquiry into Sperrin gold mining operation thumbnailIndependent councillors on Derry City and Strabane District Council joined residents who are opposed to a gold mining operation in the Sperrins for a short protest

DERRY City and Strabane District Council have supported calls for a public inquiry into a proposed gold mining operation in the Sperrins.

The move came about following a discussion during a motion tabled on the issue by Strabane independent councillor Paul Gallagher at last Thursday's monthly meeting of the council.

Prior to the meeting, Cllr Gallagher and other independent councillors joined members of a campaign group who are opposing the proposals by Dalaradian Gold outside the Guildhall for a brief protest demonstrating their operation to the company's plans.

In his motion, Cllr Gallagher referred to the "toxic nature" of gold mining operations and urged the council to call on the Minister for Infrastructure to halt the "current inadequate consultation" being undertaken by the company in the Greencastle area.

He further called on the minister to "establish an all encompassing public inquiry" and to take "cognisant of the wider scale of the project and the all Ireland implications".

Cllr Gallagher told the chamber the council had a responsibility to protecting the Sperrins which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

He told councillors: "It (gold mining) requires the use of cyanide, a lethal toxin which we have seen cause many, many environmental disasters with cyanide spillages through mining operations

"This current operation going on within the Sperrins has no environmental assessment. These works need halted. We need some intervention from the Minister and I urge this council to support this motion. If not, I warn you a toxic tsunami is being created in the Sperrins and it's coming this way."

His comments were supported by fellow independent Warren Robinson who said there would be no financial benefit adding that there is "real fear" among residents in rural Tyrone.

"Ninety-four per cent of the gold that will come out of the ground will go straight to Dalradian resources, 4 per cent will go to the Crown Estate and 2 per cent to certain landowners. Then we have the environmental destruction that follows."

Sinn Fein's Maoliosa McHugh said he agreed with the motion "in every respect" but stated that it had been "superseded" by recent events and suggested an amendment.

He said he was "all too aware" of the issues surrounding gold mining in the area.

"We'd like to add in that we welcome the decision by Minister Chris Hazzard that any planning application will be subject to a public inquiry."

The amendment was seconded by party colleague, Dan Kelly.

The DUP's David Ramsay said he hoped residents would eventually come to support the work being carried out by the Canadian mining company and he welcomed the minister's indication of holding an inquiry.

"This company has been touch with our party recently. They have made it clear that if the minister asks for a public inquiry they are happy to do that.

"This is a major company and our party are not in a position to do away with possible jobs. Exploration is important as it has been for hundreds of years with oil, coal and all the rest. "The whole project has the prospect of a huge economic boost to the whole of the West and we must ensure, obviously, that the people in that area have their say and do hopefully come in support in the future."

Mayor Hillary McClintock was then forced to halt the meeting temporarily as one of the group of campaigners who had packed into the public gallery repeatedly coughed loudly over the DUP man's comments.

"This is a company that knows what it is about and they will make sure that everything is done for the good of the area," Cllr Ramsey added.

SDLP Martin Reilly said his party also welcomed the need for a public inquiry as the "right place for all the issues to be aired".

Paul Gallagher, however, said he objected to any amendment to his motion.

"The minister has only said that he is 'minded' to have a public inquiry. We're coming into the New Year and people are minded to do many things and within two weeks it falls apart. I can't accept this.

"This is a very important issue for the peoples' lives in the Sperrins, Derry and further afield in Fermanagh and Mid Ulster," he said.

The Strabane man then branded SF's amended motion "lazy and silly" adding that it was "doing a disservice to the people of that area".

Councillor Dan Kelly moved to reiterate that a planning application had not yet been submitted by Dalradian so a public inquiry could not be definitively called by the minister "on something that has not been subjected to his desk."

"He has made it clear that when the application has come in that it will be subjected to a public inquiry," he added.

Cllr Gallagher's previous remarks were supported by his independent colleagues Gary Donnelly, Darren O'Reilly and Sean Carr.

The SDLP's John Boyle also expressed concern over the amended motion and said the party would not support it. He said he felt the amendment by Cllr McHugh didn't give "assurances or guarantees".

"The word 'minded' by the minister is not good enough. It should say guarantee...A public inquiry affords a balanced approach to this issue and all sides of the argument can be and will be heard," he said.

Cllr McHugh retorted that his party had stood "steadfastly" with the concerned residents and that the minister should be congratulated for his stance as he had "been very clear" that there will be a public inquiry.

The amended motion put to a vote and was passed with 21 for and 13 against. It will also be circulated to other councils and other key organisations.

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