Dáil Éireann - Volume 451 - 30 March, 1995
Minerals Development Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Joe Jacob
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Lynch was in possession but, as she is not here, I call Deputy Flaherty.
Miss Flaherty Miss Flaherty
Miss Flaherty: I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution. The Minister indicated that this is largely a technical Bill and is necessary because of legal advice on renewing licences, the legal basis of which has to be established beyond question. Many Deputies took the opportunity to discuss more widely the issue of mining. If we are to realise its full potential, given that unemployment is such a huge issue, it needs a great deal more focus.
One of the reasons mining has remained untouched is the very important consideration of protecting the environment. Successful mining applications seem to be the exception rather than the rule and mining is seen almost as a no go area, a pity but understandable. There are many issues to be reconciled. I will respond to some raised by the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, this morning arising from her recent participation at an international conference on mining in Canada.
This subject may not seem the average occupation of a Dublin north west Deputy with a background in education but in the years 1991-92 I was Opposition spokesperson on Energy when Deputy Molloy was the Minister and it  was a full ministry. Unfortunately I did not hear all of Deputy Molloy's contribution but he seemed to concentrate on trying to make political points in questioning the need for this Bill instead of using the opportunity to tease out some of the problems he, as Minister, identified as needing a response but which were not responded to then and still have not been responded to.
Mining is nobody's baby. One project has got under way in recent years having gone through every hoop and hurdle in the process. More mining opportunities have been discarded than have been pursued in recent years. While accepting that we must work within the strictest environmental constraints, we must ask what can be done to progress the debate and develop the resources. A Biblical parable would suggest that in the long run it is not defensible to sit on one's assets and return them untouched.
I welcome the Minister's commitment to present the findings of the group undertaking a fundamental review of the national minerals policy and the Mineral Development Acts to the House as quickly as possible. It is regrettable that the Department of Energy is no longer a full ministry. While its budget then was modest, the range of the semi-State bodies it controlled, the major environmental debate on mining mineral resources, energy conservation and forestry were worthy of a great deal of attention and have enormous potential for development. I have a copy of the Minister's 1992 Estimate speech which as usual is substantial and runs to some 14 pages, with half a page devoted to mining and minerals. I cannot imagine how little would be devoted to this subject when it is included in the broad range of responsibilities which the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications now combines albeit with a Minister of State responsible for energy. I know how difficult it is to get access to adequate information and decision making from  that position unless those powers are delegated completely and clearly.
There are two things we can consider. Mining is out of place in the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and should be moved to the Department of Enterprise and Employment. It should be viewed in terms of job creation, actively supported and marketed internationally by the IDA. On the critical issue of the environment, international applicants for a project do not require soft laws. They go into San Francisco and other States in the US where conditions and planning laws are infinitely tighter than here. They want an element of certainty that if they know the rules and comply with them they will succeed. I do not know whether by virtue of our planning laws one can ever get certainty but with the best environmental practices one should be able to rely on a reasonable guarantee of a positive outcome having invested in the highly expensive and risky business of undertaking a project for initial exploration and then developing the project.
Responsibility for mining lies inappropriately with the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. It should be moved to the area of job creation and enterprise. The approach should be one of trying to develop, support and sell mining rather than intervening in projects. Public figures, from Ministers to county councillors, have an important role to play in analysing issues rationally and exercising leadership.
With the development of new technologies many of the horror stories associated with mining are a thing of the past. Abandoned mines are a minor feature of this country and the problems associated with them would not arise nowadays given the conditions which must be met at planning levels. Our environment is precious and environmental activists are a committed and sincere group of people. Whatever Department is responsible for mining in the future should take a lead in bringing together  environmentalists and mining interest groups to act as troubleshooters and draw up acceptable guidelines.
Consideration must be given to the employment generated by the industry and its potential for the future. While it is not a major industry, it is a significant employer offering short to mediumterm employment, as can be seen in the case of the Galmoy project.
Together with conservation and energy taxation, this area has immense potential which the State should support. We should help resolve environmental issues which arise and create a climate of sustainable development. We should not seek to bypass the environmental standards set by local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency or the leasing conditions laid down by the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. A great deal more could be done to bring both sides together and ensure that the substantial resources which exist are developed on behalf of this and future generations.
Dr. Upton Dr. Upton
Dr. Upton: I welcome the introduction of this short, straightforward Bill which tidies up a few loose ends in our mining legislation. I was interested to hear Deputy Flaherty speak about employment levels and the potential of the industry to create employment. Some 1,000 people are employed directly in mining and exploration. Another 1,000 people are employed in jobs which are directly linked to mining and exploration and 3,500 people are employed in its ancillary industry, quarrying. In the cement and other industries associated with quarrying there are 15,000 people employed. The jobs are relatively well paid in that the average salary is £27,000 per employee per year. I am not sure if that is gross or net but if it is net it is not a bad level of income.
The value of the industry is £150 million a year. It is not one of our major industries but neither should it be ignored. If that sum were divided it would amount to £150 per household. It is not a major sum but is significant.  One of the difficulties which has characterised the industry is its tendency to fluctuate. It has huge peaks and troughs. It is associated with huge profits. People think there are huge sums of money to be made if one discovers a rich vein of ore. While many people have made large sums of money from mining others have incurred huge losses. Mining involves an element of gambling and perhaps that is why it is so attractive to some. Those who invest in mining must be prepared to accept enormous losses as there is a huge failure rate. It is rather like developing products. Only 5 per cent of products which reach the shelves are successful and it is the same with mining. A lot of money is spent on research, exploration work and trawling through areas trying to find rich deposits. Unless a person is extremely lucky they will go through many futile, unprofitable exercises.
In the past, the industry was associated with large profits and major environmental problems. We must face up to those problems if we are to develop our mining industry in a manner which is beneficial to society, not just in the short term. It is possible to make large amounts of money from mining in the short term if one hits the right vein of ore and so on but such activity may cause enormous environmental damage. It may be a quick fix solution in terms of benefiting the economy of a small area, but there can be a tremendous downside in the longer term in respect of its impact on the country's image. As our country is perceived as having a green, wholesome, healthy and clean environment, it is highly desirable that any mining activity carried out here meets the highest standards.
The outlook for the industry seems to be reasonably optimistic. I gather it is estimated that of the order of 750 people will continue to be employed in Tara Mines for the next 20 years, a significant number by national standards. We would all be delighted to hear an announcement that the establishment of a factory in an area would result in the  creation of 750 jobs. I would be delighted if that number of jobs were created in my constituency and I would be very pleased if I were told that the best estimates indicated they would be secure for 20 years. Tara Mines is a valuable national resource. Similarly, it is estimated that 500 or 600 jobs will be created in the Galmoy and Lisheen mines and that the value of their output will be £200 million to £300 million per year.
The legislation is relevant as it is necessary to lay down a framework to facilitate development of and investment in the mining industry which will be carried out on a sustained and renewable basis. The legal framework will allow the mining industry to progress and develop in the longer term which this relatively straightforward technical Bill facilitates. I imagine a number of people who have become involved in the mining industry have done so on the basis of the assumption that significant amounts of resources and deposits could be exploited here if the necessary investment is made to identify them. One of the major potentials of our industry is that exploratory work would identify further reserves which could be exploited and subsequently developed.
The Bill deals with the renewal of prospecting licences and amounts and types of mining licence fees and lays down specific offences, particularly in respect of corporate organisations and companies which breach mining regulations. The Bill to some extent puts a legal framework on the present practice and that is desirable in many respects. It simply consolidates a set of circumstances and practices which worked well over the years. If practices are satisfactory, it is important that they should be set in a legal framework and we should be confident in the knowledge that they will continue to benefit the country.
The latter part of the Bill deals with fairly routine matters contained in most Bills. It was initiated as a result of a series of deficiencies in the various Mineral Development Acts which date back to  1940, 1979 being the most recent legislation. The Bill has been introduced before the publication of the report of the review group and I presume that is one of the reasons its scope is restricted. I imagine it would be more comprehensive if the report were available but that should not be seen as a fault or limitation in the Bill which is satisfactory as far as it goes. Obviously, there is an urgent need to proceed with this legislation rather than await the publication of the report and draft legislation which may be more comprehensive and complex.
The Bill lays down provisions for the payment of fees to cover mining licence applications. It is important that it is flexible regarding the amount of fees charged for various applications. In particular, the fees should be adequate to, cover the cost of processing applications. The cost of processing some mining licence applications is prohibitive. It is important that people who are prepared to make the necessary level of investment should carry the associated risk and bear the cost of processing an application. Major controversy surrounds many mining licence applications which require the preparation of consultancy reports. Sometimes the preparation of such reports involves a long, expensive and exhaustive process, involving large sums of money. Sums in the order of £200,000 to £500,000 have been quoted to prepare a proper consultancy report to ascertain the potential of various mines. Many people are concerned that costs should cover the effects of a mining development, not just on the environment, but on the whole community in terms of its economic impact/and its extent and life expectancy, which is an important consideration.
The Bill strengthens the law governing the protection of privately and publicly owned mineral rights. There is a reasonable level of prospecting activity. Approximately 500 prospecting licences are in force at present, rather more than I would have expected. Not only are a large number of organisations — which  I would have thought dominated the industry — involved in mining but, having regard to the 500 prospecting licences in force, a large number of small organisations are also involved in prospecting, which is desirable. I do not believe that the mining industry should be the sole prerogative of multinationals with large resources. Each licence must be considered individually and it would be undersirable if the position were otherwise. When a licence is due for renewal, it is important that the performance of the license and factors such as the amount of work undertaken during the period in which the licence is held and the track record of the applicant are considered. Applications should be considered in the context of how the organisation performed when granted the licence.
Many conditions associated with licences relate to the technical aspects of mining, but the main concern of the public is the environment and, in crude terms, the mess created as a result of various mining developments. In recent years mineral prospecting practices have improved so dramatically that types of mining which would not have been considered viable in the past are now acceptable. It is important to protect our environment against short-term significant gains combined with the undesirable long-term impact of poor mining practices. It is essential that we take a long-term view.
It is important also that there be close liaison between landowners where mining prospecting takes place and the relevant regulatory agencies, to promote a harmonious relationship with the local community. While that is in everybody's interest, it has not always been the case although significant lessons have been learned by all concerned. It is essential that every effort be undertaken to avoid any incidence of pollution in the course of exploration and that any damage to land and/or vegetation is kept to a minimum and rectified as soon as possible.
I understand the Bill provides for consultation, advertising and so on, in order that this overall process may be  implemented effectively. It is also crucial that excavations are recorded so that a complaint against a developer can be recorded for subsequent consideration and analysis. It is very useful to allow mining agencies, certainly large corporations, to identify problems in the course of their explorations and anticipate them when they move on to other areas, so that they can take appropriate action against their recurrence. The fees to be charged are covered extensively in the Bill and relate to the value of the minerals anticipated to be extracted at the time of the granting of the licence.
The terms of reference of the Minerals Policy Review Group are very comprehensive, covering almost all aspects of mining, particularly those with job creation potential, and fiscal initiatives necessary for the development of the industry. Its terms of reference also include consideration of downstream industrial development, the value of this country as a centre within which mining development can take place, the environmental effects of mining and how they can be dealt with.
I am pleasantly surprised to note that the review group is comprised of people from other walks of life including some personal friends of mine. Lest anybody thinks I have been involved in the mining industry for years, I should reassure the House that I have not been. Some of the members of that review group are very fine people who have made an excellent contribution to this country— here I think of the environmental aspects — people like Professor Frank Convery of UCD, whose work on protecting our environment has been of enormous benefit. The review group also includes Professor Alan Matthews of Trinity College, Dublin who, as an economist, has made a major contribution as has Mr. Eugene McCague, a lawyer, who no doubt will have a valuable input generally but specifically on the legal aspects of mining, which is important as enormous amounts of money are involved in the determination of the legal contracts. I understand that the report of the Minerals  Policy Review Group will be available in the near future and hope its recommendation will be quickly implemented.
Mr. Crawford Mr. Crawford
Mr. Crawford: I welcome this imporant Bill, whose main purpose is to cover certain long-standing practices for the renewal of mineral prospecting licences and to charge fees to applicants to avail of certain State mining facilities. Another objective is to update the original penalties in the Minerals Development Act, 1940 applicable to offences committed by companies and other organisations in order to deter people from engaging in illegal mining practices. I hope the Minister will render these fines relevant to the offences involved, that he will not go overboard, making it impossible for people to operate within the system. We need only think of fines recently introduced for driving while drunk. I hope similar mistakes will not be made in this Bill.
I wondered about the relevance of the provisions of this Bill to my constituency. There came to mind mining activities at the gypsum works at Kingscourt, County Cavan, an important mine which opened some 60 years ago, worked by underground miners who had to dig into tunnels and do most of the work by hand. Happily in recent years the deep shafts dug to reach the mineral deposits have been replaced by open-cast mining so that fewer people are employed in the excavation. Because of the ingenuity of the company concerned, many people are employed in using those deposits to make valuable products for sale at home and abroad. In that one mining operation perhaps 230 to 300 people are directly employed, in full-time excavation, transport and the use of the final product. Hundreds of people around Kingscourt, Magheracloone and Car-rickmacross depend on that mine.
It is important that we introduce the requisite laws to ensure that such mining activity can continue and be improved because, without the mine in that area, many more people would be  unemployed, and there would be much less economic activity in surrounding towns and farmlands. Many small farms could not be sustained without the breadwinner or his son or daughter working in these areas. If it takes a mine to keep people in rural areas, so be it. I heard Deputy O'Hanlon say only a few days ago that if we allow the drift to continue, all of our population will move to the east. Mines, farms or whatever must be exploited to the full to ensure jobs are created and people can remain in their localities.
The Minister said there are 486 mineral prospecting licences nationwide of which three were granted to County Monaghan including the Gypsum licence and that Tara Mines were also thinking of prospecting in County Monaghan. We must examine what laws are necessary to ensure that other aspects of life continue in rural areas where mining usually takes place. Under EU laws we have to meet certain standards of water control. It is important that the quality of water for dairy farms, poultry production or mushroom production— which is flourishing in County Monaghan — is preserved. The provisions of this Bill will ensure that underground water and lakes are preserved. Much has been said in this House in the last few days about water charges. What is important to many people is that they get quality water.
In my county of Monaghan the pollution of lakes and rivers resulting from an intensive poultry industry must be considered. If minerals are being sought the necessary laws must be enacted to safeguard the rights of householders, producers and others.
Under this Bill 300 licences are due for renewal this year which involves a cost to the Department and to the applicants. In updating the fees and charges the Minister must ensure that the ordinary taxpayer, who is not involved in this area, does not have to bear the burden. He must also strike a balance and ensure he does not overcharge and prevent people from prospecting for minerals.
 The last fines were imposed in 1940. If people break the law we must ensure fines are set at a realistic level to act as a deterrent.
During the summer of 1994 I was fortunate to spend a few weeks on holidays — not a junket — in Canada where I visited the second largest zinc mine in the world. It brought home to me the delicate balance in this area. Mining can be extremely valuable and profitable in the short-term. People can make or lose a fortune. We are competing against huge industries worldwide. It is not an industry on which we could depend as our main form of production but, it is important that we make use of it. I visited a village in British Colombia where in the past thousands of people were employed, because of the change from deep mining to open cast mining thousands of people lost their jobs. Mechanisation in this area means that we may not necessarily get the value out of mining which some people would have thought possible years ago.
We must be careful not to put all our eggs in one basket. We in Monaghan produce a large quantity of eggs and want to ensure that continues.
Mr. N. Treacy Mr. N. Treacy
Mr. N. Treacy: Have you got the hen that laid the golden egg?
Mr. Crawford Mr. Crawford
Mr. Crawford: The golden egg is very important and I am sure the Minister will look after it in the best possible way.
Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Lowry) Michael Lowry
Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Lowry): I regret that, due to an important previous commitment, I was unable to remain for the entire debate but my Ministers of State, Deputies Stagg and Doyle, have noted the points made. I thank the many Deputies who contributed to this debate, particularly Deputies Treacy and Molloy for their thoughtful contributions which were based on ministerial experience and a deep knowledge of the minerals industry. I carefully noted all the points raised. I thank Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, for putting  Ireland's mineral prospecting and development in the context of the intense international competition for investment. Following her recent communications with all the leaders in this area she will be conscious of international competition.
In respect of the national minerals policy, we have begun an important debate and will benefit from the report of the National Minerals Policy Review Group which will be available to Deputies and the public generally next month. I have asked that this report be finalised and presented to me at the earliest opportunity. I am committed to developing a sound national minerals policy and legal framework to serve job creation and growth needs while ensuring proper safeguards for the environment.
Regarding prospecting licences, 486 licences are in force. My policy is to encourage prospectors to work very hard to identify all commercially viable deposits. The actual number of licences is secondary to the real activity being undertaken by these prospectors. I will keep procedures and work requirements under review to ensure that all worthwhile prospecting is actively encouraged. If prospectors do not perform as they should under the requirements their licences will not be renewed.
The other issue concerning a number of Deputies is the mining licence and lease applications. It is important that, as Minister, I should be able to examine applications thoroughly and promptly. It is not a question of rubber-stamping the proposals for any development. There is too much at stake in terms of scarce national mineral resources and we all have a duty and a responsibility to protect the environment.
There has been much discussion on section 5. There is no policy departure involved. This section simply provides a statutory framework for charging an appropriate fee for examining applications for State mining leases and licences. Mine projects vary considerably in size, in the nature of the minerals  involved and their environmental implications. Each one must be examined thoroughly by the Minister to satisfy the statutory obligation and in any case it must be in the public interest to grant a State mining licence.
There is no basis for the view expressed that the standard fee will be £200,000 in all cases. The £200,000 fee quoted in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill relates specifically to the major and complex zinc lead mine project mooted for Lisheen, County Tipperary. I have a particular interest in this project which is in my constituency. I had preliminary discussions with the promoters, Ivernia, and will be in continuous contact with them. I will examine this aspect of the Bill in great detail. This project is unique and cannot be quoted as a precedent in terms of fees which may arise for smaller projects for coal or industrial minerals which give rise to less complex issues for consideration. In other words, fees for considering applications for State mining leases and licences will continue to be set on an individual basis, having regard to the facts of each case.
Deputy Hughes asked about the fees for prospecting licences from November 1994. These are as follows: £150 for each application plus a consideration fee; £600 for the second year; £700 for the third and fourth years; £1,200 for the fifth and sixth years; £2,000 for the seventh and eighth years and £2,000 for each subsequent two year period. All notices of intention to grant a mineral prospecting licence are published in local rather than in the national newspapers. They do not invite objections, and these are rarely lodged.
The essential provisions of the Bill were agreed by the previous Government in September 1994. The Deputies opposite made their comments as if this was the first time they had read the Bill. The only change is the provision in section 2 which will require public advertisement of the intention to renew prospecting licences. If there was no clear statutory provision for the renewal  of prospecting licences all such renewals could be challenged on legal grounds. We do not want this to happen and new laws are required to rectify the situation. I am effectively responding to the advice of the Attorney General, which I am obliged to take, and I am doing so in the interests of the mineral section and all those involved. The legislation is, therefore, urgently required. I have noted all the points raised by Deputies and on Committee Stage. I will carefully consider any amendments which they believe will improve the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Dáil Éireann 451 Minerals Development Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).