Seanad Éireann - Volume 143 - 08 June, 1995

Minerals Development Bill, 1995: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): This Bill has been prepared in response to legal advice to the present and preceding Ministers for Transport, Energy and Communications that certain gaps in the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1979, should be filled as quickly as possible. The main purpose of the Bill is to give specific statutory cover for certain long standing practices for renewal of minerals prospecting licences and for charging fees for applications for certain State mining facilities.

The second purpose of the Bill is to maintain an effective deterrence against illegal mining and other offences by updating the original penalties in the [1798] Minerals Development Act, 1940, and applying them to offences by companies and other organisations. That Act already provided for offences by individuals.

Since the detailed financial and explanatory memorandum published with the Bill deals with all provisions of the Bill in some detail, I propose to concentrate my remarks on the general background to the Bill and the reasons why, with the assistance of this House, the Bill should be enacted soon. I shall also refer to the development of a national minerals policy, to which the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications is now giving priority attention.

Since the Minerals Development Act, 1940, came into operation thousands of minerals prospecting licences have been granted by successive Ministers following public newspaper advertisements of the intention to grant the licence and consideration of any representations made. Representations are very rare, which is hardly surprising given the responsible way in which holders of minerals prospecting licences generally go about their business.

Many of these licences were renewed, in some cases a number of times, by successive Ministers in good faith, including hundreds of licences currently in force. The long standing practice of renewals and successive renewals has not given rise to any difficulty or challenge. However, legal advice has drawn attention to the lack of statutory provision for licence renewals and put the case that fresh licences should have been granted after the term of the original licence expired.

Therefore, there is a pressing need for legislation to validate all renewals to date and to specifically empower the Minister to renew any of those licences and any other licences granted in the future where the Minister considers that renewal is justified in the particular circumstances of each case. Clearly, without the legislation now proposed to effectively safeguard the status quo, there would be considerable disruption [1799] to the renewal process for all concerned. Sections 2 to 4 of the Bill refer.

I draw the attention of the House to section 2 (d) which, in the interests of transparency, imposes the same obligation on the Minister to publicly advertise the intention to renew a minerals prospecting licence as applies in all cases when such a licence is proposed to be granted for the first time.

There are currently 431 minerals prospecting licences in force of which about 300 would fall due for renewal in 1995 and the rest would fall due for renewal in 1996 or later. The Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1979, require the Minister to give details of minerals prospecting licences in force in a twice-yearly report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister's report for the six months to 31 December 1994 was presented to this House and to Dáil Éireann on 2 February 1995.

The essential focus of minerals prospecting activity is to identify as quickly as possible all commercially viable deposits which could be developed. All holders of minerals prospecting licences are encouraged to undertake minerals prospecting in a very active and systematic way.

Renewals of minerals prospecting licences are considered strictly on a case by case basis. Thus, whether the licence will be renewed in a particular case will depend, first, on whether the licensee seeks renewal of the licence. About 100 licences are surrendered each year by licensees, some of whom seek licences for other areas perceived to be more prospective.

If renewal is sought, the exploration and mining division of the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications would give particular attention to actual performance to date by the licensee, including the submission of required work reports, whether all of the other conditions of the licence have been complied with and whether the undertakings given by the licensee have been honoured. If actual performance to date was satisfactory, the licensee [1800] would have to enter into a commitment to undertake a specific further programme of exploration in the area in question before renewal of the licence would be agreed. If, however, actual performance was unsatisfactory, the licence would not be renewed. Indeed, if the circumstances warranted it, the licence would be revoked before its term expired. Hence, licence holders are encouraged to perform.

Geologists from the exploration and mining division of the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications closely monitor exploration activity and conduct many site visits throughout the State. Licensees are obliged to give to the division at least two weeks advance notice in writing of proposed borehole and shaft sinking to a depth of more than 20 feet below the surface and to obtain the division's written approval at least 20 working days in advance for proposed trenching operations. These requirements provide opportunities for the division's geologists to conduct particularly focused and detailed site visits, the outcome of which could have a direct bearing on whether the particular licences in question or other licences held by the particular licensee ought to be renewed.

In short, the exploration and mining division of my Department maintains close liaison with licensees with a view to encouraging them to explore thoroughly for commercially viable deposits and to bring forward sound development proposals as quickly as possible.

A special incentive to encourage minerals exploration in unexplored ground was announced by the Minister in conjunction with the annual May licence competition. The ground in question represents over 400 licence areas, or about one half of the total licence areas in the State which have never been explored or have not been explored for at least four years. The incentive takes the form of a reduced fee of £1,000 for a six year licence as compared with the standard fee of £2,500, and less onerous work and expenditure requirements [1801] than apply to explored ground. The incentive has been welcomed by the minerals industry as an attractive one.

Subject to meeting the requisite technical, financial and environmental criteria, and certain specific procedural requirements where privately owned minerals are involved, a successful licensed minerals prospector would be favourably considered by the Minister for the grant of a State mining facility. Every encouragement is given by the Department to licensees at minerals prospecting stage to work assiduously so as to identify commercially viable deposits for development.

The Department also assists licensees in identifying as early as possible all steps needed to be taken by the licensees to secure the necessary permits for the development from the relevant authorities, that is the Department itself, the relevant local planning authority and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department works closely with other permitting authorities in order to ensure that applications are comprehensively and speedily examined by all concerned, having due regard to the specific and separate statutory code applicable to each of these authorities.

The Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, as national licensing authority for mines, must ensure that all proposals for mine development are thoroughly and expertly examined before permission is granted to proceed with them. The Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1979, specifically require the Minister to satisfy himself or herself that the public interest would be served by the granting of a State mining lease or licence in any particular case.

There is no question of rubber stamping any mining proposal from any developer. The Minister must ensure that valuable national minerals resources are effectively and efficiently developed and State revenues therefrom assured. In addition, in accordance with the obligation on each Minister to protect the environment, the Minister must also be satisfied before permitting the development of national minerals resources that [1802] the development will cause as little harm as possible to the environment.

Furthermore, the Local Government (Planning and Development) Regulations, 1994, SI No. 86, stipulate that the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications must receive a copy of the environmental impact statement, prepared by the developer of any mine project, at the time the developer submits an application for planning permission to the relevant planning authority. Staff of the Department's exploration and mining division and of the Geological Survey of Ireland, which operates under the aegis of the Department, are directly involved in examining all proposals for mine projects.

In the case of small mine projects, involving minerals such as coal or industrial minerals generally, the engagement of external consultants would not usually be necessary. In the case of larger mine projects, however, the Minister needs the best possible independent external advice so as to address properly all the key issues arising. This is particularly so in cases involving base metals, such as the major proposed zinc lead mines at Galmoy, County Kilkenny, and at Lisheen, County Tipperary, which would have major infrastructural and financial considerations as well as possible implications for the environment.

The Minister requires the best mining practices and also minimising, if not avoiding, all possible long term negative effects of the mines if they were to proceed. This means that the Minister has to call for advice upon suitably qualified and experienced external consultants from relevant disciplines, notably mine and mine plant engineering, hydrogeology, chemistry and geostatistics, which have the required international standing.

Due to the small number of mines in the State, independent expert advice of the required level would not ordinarily be available within the State, except perhaps in relation to some limited aspects of mine projects. Where applications for a State mining lease or licence are successful, the practice has [1803] been to recoup handling costs as part of the fees for the State mining facility for the project. There is no mechanism in place to recoup handling costs necessarily incurred by the Minister in considering applications which turned out to be unsuccessful or are later withdrawn for any reason.

Section 5 of the Bill is designed to fill the gap in the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1979, by specifically requiring all applicants for State mining leases or licences to pay an appropriate application fee. As heretofore, that fee will be kept as low as possible, consistent with a thorough independent assessment of each individual application. No two mineral deposits are the same and hence neither could two mining projects be the same. As amended by Dáil Éireann, section 5 requires the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to make regulations in order to specify such fees from the date on which the Bill becomes law. Thus, for the future there will be a transparent and flexible mechanism for specifying such fees and for quickly revising those fees if required. Such regulations will be subject to standard review by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

These new arrangements represent a very considerable improvement on the ad hoc arrangements which applied heretofore. The Minister proposes to specify the following application fees in regulations to be made under section 5 of the Bill: metalliferous minerals, such as zinc, lead, etc, £15,000 plus 10p per annual tonne of the design capacity of the mine. The greater of £15,000 or 50 per cent of the total fee will be payable on application and the balance within six months of application. For other minerals, such as gypsum, calcite, dolomite or dolomitic limestone, etc, the application fee will be payable on application: (i) £5,000 if the design capacity is less than 100,000 tonnes per annum; (ii) £10,000 in other cases.

The need to legislate for renewal of mineral prospecting licences and for application fees to be charged for State [1804] mining facilities provides the opportunity to legislate also for updating the original penalties in the 1940 Act for a variety of offences. The penalties have become derisory through the fall in the value of money. The offences relate to illegal working of minerals, obstruction of authorised persons and failure to provide required information to the Minister. Clearly, there is continuing need to deter would-be offenders by having updated penalties which can be applied specifically to offences committed by individuals, whether acting alone or behind a corporate veil. Sections 6 and 7 of the Bill refer and will allow the courts to impose penalties fitting particular offences and circumstances if such arise in the future.

The Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications is determined to ensure that, with the proper application of modern technology and mining techniques, the mineral resources of the nation will be developed with proper safeguards for the environment. These are national assets which must be developed responsibly so as to achieve the maximum benefit in terms of job creation, increasing national wealth and underpinning industrial growth. It is vital that every effort be made to locate all commercially viable mineral reserves and, having done so, to bring them into production as efficiently as possible. The aim is to support as strongly as possible the principle of sustainable development for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

The recent report with recommendations of the national minerals policy review group will provide an important input into the development of a sound national minerals policy for the future. The report and recommendations are being examined by the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications as a priority. Each Member of the Seanad and Dáil received a copy of the report on publication, on 12 May 1995. The Minister and I look forward to receiving the considered views of Members and to a wide ranging and overdue public debate so as to help [1805] shape national minerals policy for the future.

The Bill before the House does not prejudice in any way the fundamental review of national minerals policy and the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1979, which is underway following publication of the review group's report. On the contrary, the Bill is required to fill as quickly as possible important gaps in the Minerals Developments Acts which the Minister's advisers and those of his predecessor have identified. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Cassidy: I welcome the Bill, which will have a relatively quick passage through the House. This area has been extremely important to the economy in recent years. I am sure people, particularly those in the midlands, recall the magnificent contribution of mining in terms of the creation of jobs and the wealth of Counties Meath, Westmeath, Louth and Kildare——

Acting Chairman (Mr. Fitzgerald): I am sorry to interrupt the Senator, but I omitted to mention that he has 20 minutes.

Mr. Cassidy: May I share my time?

Acting Chairman: There is no need for the Senator to share his time.

Mr. Cassidy: Mining has created an enormous number of jobs in the midland counties of Meath, Westmeath, Louth and Kildare. When the discovery was made at Tara Mines in 1970, it brought welcome employment to the area. Young Irish men started the mining industry in Ireland in the late 1950s and the early 1960s before they emigrated from the midlands to Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and other parts of Canada. They all returned and used their expertise in the development at Tara Mines.

The report to which the Minister referred mentions the new minerals policy and some eminent names, such as Mr. Michael McCarthy from Loughrea, [1806] County Galway, who is a legend in the mining business. He and others, including Mr. Pat Hughes, went to Canada, worked in the mining business and created their own exploration companies. As a nation, we owe a great deal of gratitude to these pioneers who went to Canada in the 1950s in search of employment, came back with their wealth and helped to build a sound mining business, which we now know as Tara Mines, in County Meath. While the various sections of the Bill and the points made by the Minister are relevant, they would not be so without the personnel behind them. I know these people at first hand and I admire the way in which they have worked so hard to get themselves off the bottom.

It is only fair that I should point out I hold 71 Arcon shares.

Mr. Ross: That is hardly a declaration.

Mr. Cassidy: That should be put on the record, as there is another Member of this House present who also has an interest in this matter. It is only fair that I should declare this interest, although only a small number of shares are involved.

There were 700 exploration licences available in Ireland about five years ago. Why has this number now been reduced to 400? Is it because there is not that much interest in it, or is it that all of the country has been researched to such an extent that only the high possibility areas are left to be explored? I know that there was a high expectation of finding minerals in my own areas of Moate and Knocknavalley in the 1970s. We also thought that there would be a big mineral find in Barrymine and Ballinalack, but we were told that there was too much hard stone between the product and the ground.

The poet Boone said that “There is a goldmine in the sky”. It is a goldmine that many people seek. This is an exciting adventure, to say the least. There are enormous risks involved in this area and I know of many friends who did not [1807] have pleasant experiences in this regard. The report of the National Minerals Policy Review Group recommends that 100 per cent capital investment could be written off in this venture. I can well imagine the intention behind that.

The report stated:

It is strongly recommended that the State adopt a positive pro-active National Minerals policy so as to maximise the contribution that the Minerals Industry can make to the national economy and employment, while ensuring that the highest standards of environmental protection, health and safety are maintained.

Those of us who are members of local authorities will know that environmental impact studies have to be taken even for the smallest project if there is a chance that it could be a hazard or cause any sort of environmental problem, and that is only right. This would be certainly the case for those of us who have witnessed the long and tedious application in regard to Galmoy over the last number of years. It is good and healthy that these matters are teased out and there should be no bad repercussions. When those who invest heavily come into an area, take the minerals from the earth and then leave it in an unsatisfactory state, that is not in the best interests of the environment.

I commend the Department, who have built up a bank of expertise in this regard over the years. I know that it got considerable help from these eminent gentlemen, especially during the Hughes era, and it was able to bring in the top geologists from around the world and the expertise to help them with the various projects that came on stream.

The greatest mineral success of all was the Kinsale gas find, which has meant a lot to our economy. It has helped us to make great savings on our fuel imports over the years and has made Ireland that much more self-sufficient as far as our energy costs are concerned. This country was practically [1808] brought to a standstill by a petrol strike a few years ago, which had nothing to do with the Government or the Department at the time but was due to forces outside our control. The more exploration licences that can be granted and the greater the encouragement that can be given to people to invest some of their funds in these explorations, the better.

When it comes to a challenge, the Irish can face up to it and take their chances. One only has to look at the great successes that we have had in various fields over the last number of years, particularly in those of business, politics and sport, to see that. When it comes to exploration, we are as good a race, if not better than most, in taking a long shot with the high risks involved. The penalties the Minister is proposing definitely needed to be updated. The main reason Parliament exists is to update and create new legislation when it is badly needed.

I welcome the Bill and look forward to its speedy passage here today.

Mr. Ross: I congratulate Senator Cassidy on two achievements. First, he has performed a piece of Stock Exchange gymnastics in being able to hold 71 shares in Arcon. It is difficult to achieve such an odd figure.

Mr. Cassidy: I am a poor man.

Mr. Ross: He must have had an extremely kind and understanding stockbroker to have bought him such an odd number of shares.

Mr. Cassidy: I think the Senator knows who he was.

Mr. Ross: He must have been a particularly co-operative person.

I also must declare an interest; I have 71,000 shares in Arcon.

Mr. Cassidy: That is the difference between being a university and a political Senator.

[1809] Mr. Ross: It has an inverse proportion to the wealth of Senator Cassidy and myself.

It has been an extremely uncomfortable experience to hold so many shares in Arcon. Although I have not changed them very much for a while, it is a reflection of the status of our mining industry that a share of that sort, which has proven assets under the ground, has been consistently declining. It is not, as the Minister might say, necessarily a reflection of the price of zinc or lead worldwide but of the atmosphere in which these mining companies have to operate within this country that the share price of a solid company of that sort is continuing to deteriorate. Senator Cassidy's shares are worth about £14 at this stage, mine are about £14,000. It is important that the Minister, while addressing this Bill, which he says is a technical one, should also give us some indication of the Government's view of the Irish mining industry.

I remember a time when the Minster and his colleagues in the Labour Party would have said that these assets belong to the Irish people and that was that.

Mr. Magner: I would remind Senator Ross that we are in Government together.

Mr. Ross: The rest of us who thought differently could go and take a jump in the lake. Thankfully, we are all now happily in Government together and it does appear that there is a——

Mr. Magner: May I raise a point of order?

Acting Chairman: Senator Magner on a point of order.

Mr. Magner: I am just confused, Chairman.

Mr. Ross: This is not a point of order, Chairman. I can tell you now that it is not a point of order.

[1810] Mr. Magner: My understanding is that the Opposition took up positions on the left.

Mr. Ross: Not on your left, Senator Magner.

Acting Chairman: Senator Ross, without interruption.

Mr. Cassidy: I observe that Senator Magner is wearing a blue shirt.

Mr. Magner: Senator Ross is an independent Member of Fine Gael.

Acting Chairman: Senator Ross, without interruption.

Mr. Ross: It is a great pleasure to be in Government with the left and to see their conversion to incentives to developing the mining industry and to allowing private enterprise to continue unfettered by the socialist chains by which they were imprisoned in past times. This is something which everybody on this side of the House will now welcome.

Mr. Magner: Which side of the House?

Mr. Ross: The language and rhetoric have changed and so have the policies. While I gather that everybody approves of this Bill for reasons which are probably political rather than matters of conviction, it would be appropriate to ask why the Minister is always the licensing authority. The Bill assumes the approval of everybody in this House that the Minister will give renewals as well as imposing the level of fines and the regulations.

I do not want to go over old ground but, as everybody in this House knows, there was a difficult controversy recently on the Arcon issue which involved a Minister. It would have been easier for everybody concerned if the Minister had not been involved. There are so many authorities in this area that it seems wrong, or certainly questionable, [1811] that a political figure should be the final arbiter of a mining licence or of its renewal. That creates difficulties for those involved in the mining industry and for the political figure himself or herself. It would be better and more appropriate if this final decision was taken out of the political arena and given to those who are qualified experts in this area.

Mr. Magner: The shareholders.

Mr. Ross: In some cases the shareholders would be more appropriate than the Minister.

Mr. Magner: Self-regulation.

Mr. Ross: I do not know whether it is in order for one Member of the coalition to continually interrupt another Member of the coalition, Chairman.

Mr. Cassidy: There are eminent signs of Wicklow jitters here, I would say.

Mr. Mooney: Yes.

Mr. Ross: Not here. None whatsoever, Senator Cassidy.

Mr. Magner: That is an unwarranted attack on Senator Ross.

Mr. Ross: Since nobody has addressed the Bill so far, it would be appropriate to address the atmosphere in which the mining industry finds itself. I was disappointed that the Minister did not give any response by the Government to this document. I understand that it was only issued on 12 May.

Mr. Stagg: That is right.

Mr. Ross: I have had time to read it in the last hour and I would have thought that somebody in the Department would have been able to give an indication of the response of the Government to the document, which is, after all, in mild language a fair old [1812] indictment of Government policy on national minerals over the last 20 years.

The document's message about a new policy is that the minerals industry does not live in a sympathetic environment here. That is not just the result of socialist rule over a period in the 1970s and the 1980s, it is the result of consensus politics about minerals which is now outdated.

It is worth looking at some of the recommendations and hoping that the Minister takes them into account when he is considering the problems of this industry and future mining policy. While he is hampered by past ideologies, I know that he is maturing and is leaving those behind him in the new coalition which is working so well.

Mr. Cassidy: I missed that.

Mr. Ross: You would have approved, Senator Cassidy. Let me look at one or two of the measures which have happened in the last few years. The 20-year tax holiday was withdrawn in 1974 and was a clear message to some of the multinationals that Ireland was not quite such a welcoming environment as it had been in the past. After that we had what this document calls a series of minor successes, but there were no real commercial successes in the exploration industry here.

There was a great deal of hype in the offshore industry in the 1980s, which to some extent created and developed the notion that exploration amounted to gambling by people who were in it purely for speculative purposes. While that is understandable, it is not necessarily the truth. A great deal of speculation is involved, but at the end of the day if there is solid lead, zinc or base metals of any sort under the ground they should be brought up and the people who are prepared to take those risks should be encouraged to do so by the Government.

Mr. Cassidy: Hear, hear.

Mr. Stagg: Hear, hear.

[1813] Mr. Ross: Unfortunately, there was a certain amount of political disapproval of those involved in this sort of exploration at the time.

Mr. Cassidy: It was a coalition Government at the time.

Mr. Ross: Yes, it was indeed.

Mr. Cassidy: Your party was in it.

Mr. Ross: I would not disagree with you in the slightest about that. Senator Cassidy, you know that perfectly well.

Mr. Magner: Why do you not just hand him the keys of the country, for God's sake? That would simplify the process.

Mr. Ross: This is completely out of order, Chairman. I know there may be a certain amount of enjoyment in it, but it is certainly not to be tolerated.

Acting Chairman: I cannot switch from one side to the other. Senator Ross, without interruption.

Mr. Ross: As a result of this, from 1981 to 1986 the loss of the multinationals meant that exploration declined and there was very little expenditure in this area. Some capital was put in, but base metal prices fell in that period thus creating an atmosphere which was unhelpful to exploration. Then what this document calls junior exploration companies entered the Irish market because the multinationals had retreated. We had companies which I remember so well in the Stock Exchange, companies like Burmin, Emex and Arcon itself, which was Conroy in those days. Like many others they scored minor successes but did not achieve any commercial success.

There was great excitement when gold was found in the Sperrins, but none has been commercially developed. Unfortunately, when other discoveries were made by small companies they either did not have the capital or the [1814] incentive to develop them and so they were abandoned. It is a fair indication of the difficulties facing the mining industry here that Arcon, which made its discovery in 1986, is still not producing lead from the ground. That is a tragedy for many people involved, not only the owners but also for the potential employment.

Mr. Cassidy: That is true.

Mr. Ross: It sends out the wrong signals to anybody else thinking of coming into the mining industry in this country. Senator Maloney will deal with this far more eloquently than I can, but the reasons for the delays in granting mining licences are, supposedly, all environmental. The environment must be protected from cowboys who come in and destroy it, and I commend all Governments for what they have done in this area. However, there are so many people who have their finger in this mining pie — so many authorities, groups, boards, county councils and others who can stop mining at one stage or another — that it is difficult for those who are taking these risks to justify them to their shareholders.

In terms of the Arcon development there was Kilkenny County Council, the Department, the Mining Board, An Bord Pleanála, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Minister. Off the top of my head I can think of those six hurdles which have to be gone through, not just for environmental qualifications but for planning qualifications as well. Whereas the criteria which are being used are certainly laudable and commendable and no one would have any quarrel with them, there must be a quicker way of getting through this process than a nine or ten year procedure. Everybody has a great deal of sympathy for the residents and farmers of Galmoy and other places who felt, and still feel, threatened by what is happening on their doorstep. If a decision has to be made — and there are other interests involved as well — all I ask the Minister for is a more [1815] speedy procedure; not to change the standards in any way but to develop a procedure which would mean that a planning application and an environmental impact study of this sort do not have to go through quite such stringent——

Mr. Cassidy: The Whip is arriving.

Mr. Ross: ——and long-winded procedures as they have done in the past. The Bill is a highly technical one, which still seems to be, in large part, unnecessary. Will the Minister tell the House whether this Bill will give retrospective approval to grants of licences which were renewed illegally? This is my understanding of some of the Bill — that, in effect, renewal was being given without a legal basis, so that it has to be put on a statutory basis now.

Finally, on a general point, indigenous mining companies have tended to stop exploring in Ireland. That is a tragedy for this country. Companies such as Kenmare Resources pie, Glencar Explorations plc——

Mr. Cassidy: Aran Energy plc.

Mr. Ross: ——and many others have tended to go overseas to other countries like Ghana, Pakistan, Mozambique, Russia and other such places. Bula Resources plc has gone to Russia. That is a direct result of the fact that we are not giving enough encouragement to our mining companies to develop the resources here. They are finding a more sympathetic atmosphere in other undeveloped countries elsewhere. I ask the Minister to take this into account when he is considering future mining policy.

Mr. Cassidy: That was an excellent speech.

Mr. Quinn: I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I had a tradition of trying to drop words of Latin into speeches. I have run short of them in later times but there is a lovely one [1816] that applies to this issue and it is: obesa non cantava. In case our Latin has slipped a little, that means “The fat lady has not sung yet”. It is appropriate to this debate because, having listened to Senator Ross, this is not the end of the road. I support this Bill, though I cannot in all honesty say that I welcome it. The fact that a patching-up Bill like this is found to be necessary is symptomatic of the unsatisfactory way that the minerals development issue has been handled down through the years. We have a national block in our minds about developing our natural resources and particularly about developing mineral resources. I am sure we have that national block from our school days. I can remember — by the looks of things I am older than everybody else in this Chamber — Eleanor Butler's geography, which stated, if I remember correctly: “Ireland has little or no mineral resources of its own”. We all believed that back in the 1940s. We have been proved not to be correct——

Mr. Cassidy: It was a great old time.

Mr. Quinn: ——but we grew up with this national block that we did not have resources and we therefore developed a mentality that was not to be encouraged. That attitude and misconception has dogged our approach to minerals development all these years in the existence of the State. The result is that we have a much smaller minerals industry than we could have had if we had taken a more aggressive entrepreneurial approach. We did take that entrepreneurial approach back in the 1960s when those who came back from Canada — I am thinking of people such as Mr. Pat Hughes and Mr. Matt Gilroy — said that they wanted to settle in Ireland. They had this belief that there might be mineral wealth in Ireland and wondered if they could be encouraged to look for it. They got encouragement, the entrepreneurial discoveries occurred and we ended up with some successful enterprises in that area. No industry worth £100 million a year and [1817] employing thousands of people is insignificant in our economy; but the tragedy is that it could have been much bigger and better.

It was that thinking that led to the setting up of the review group on national minerals policy and I welcome, as Senator Ross does, its recent report. We had that mental block, but it was the belief that it could be a bigger mineral industry that got the review group to examine the possibility. I hope that this report will be the first step towards a new way forward, a way by which we could properly exploit our mineral resources for the first time. However, I am not convinced that the review group's report adequately recognises the need for a strong entrepreneurial role in the State's involvement in this sector. Let me make clear that I am not suggesting the State should itself get involved directly in mineral development, even as the holder of an equity stake in mines. The State's role, as I see it, is to encourage and to stimulate mineral development by others. Even though its role should be one of stimulation and encouragement, that role needs the entrepreneurial streak. It needs the spark of entrepreneurship that is required. I am not sure that we will ever provide that spark with the kind of administrative framework we have at the moment and that is being proposed.

The review group suggested that we should transfer the responsibility for minerals development to the Department of Enterprise and Employment, but I question whether any Government Department can be the right place for that. Perhaps what we need is a more independent autonomous body than a Government Department. I had the pleasure in the late 1970s and early 1980s of being involved, when a similar sort of suggestion was made about the Department of Post and Telegraphs, in the setting up of An Post. The establishment of Telecom Éireann took place at the same time. It was exciting to see what happened when the fetters of a Government Department were [1818] removed from those organisations. Perhaps there is a case for a minerals development agency, staffed not only by technical experts but also by entrepreneurs. The remit of such an agency could range beyond that of pure regulation and the handing out of licences. It could also be given an overtly entrepreneurial brief and be charged with the task of maximising the potential of our mineral resources by whatever means were most appropriate to the occasion, but not extending as far as entering the business itself.

I am not one in favour of expanding and proliferating State bodies, but in this case we have a task that is not being done adequately within existing structures and it is questionable whether it ever could be. Back in the 1970s, when the Dargan report suggested something similar for Post and Telegraphs and proposed that the existing structures were not suitable for development — they were mainly talking about telecommunications — the Government of the day grabbed hold of it and within months set up interim bodies to face up to that challenge. Perhaps we should look at something along that line now. It is also a task, as the money provisions of the Bill show, that can be self-supporting. There is no reason why a minerals development agency should cost the State a single penny. I hope the Minister will take this into account, give it some attention and will, perhaps, be able to take the first steps in that direction on Committee Stage of the Bill.

Mr. Magner: I welcome the Minister back to the House. He seems to be spending a lot of time with us in recent days. I want to deal firstly with the schizophrenic contribution by Senator Ross, who had me absolutely and totally confused as to whether he had resigned the Whip and joined the Opposition or whether he was still in the Government.

Mr. Cassidy: He is not here to defend himself.

[1819] Mr. Magner: My understanding is that, under Standing Orders, reference should never be made as to whether a Member is present. Senator Ross made a schizophrenic contribution, as if in reality there was a group of entrepreneurs out there who were willing and able to exploit the mineral resources of Ireland when, of course, historically the opposite has always been true.

Senator Quinn may be incorrect in relation to Members' ages, because I remember Seán Lemass in the 1960s and the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement. If the trade union movement was reluctant to move with the times, they got lessons from the employers. They were terrified to come out from behind the tariff wall put up by the Government, so they could not market anything but just sell and collect. They did not develop any markets because they had a captive market. The biggest obstacle to free trade at that stage was the so-called Irish entrepreneurial class. When we then entered the Common Market we encountered much the same situation. Senator Ross is quite incorrect in saying that if only the Government would get out of the way——

Mr. Cassidy: Is this a Labour Party speech or a Government speech?

Mr. Magner: Labour is part of the Government.

Mr. Cassidy: He changed what he was going to say.

Mr. Magner: I was going to say that Labour is the Government but that is for the future. Yesterday in this House we discussed the importance of trade and tourism to this country with the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg. People visit this country because of its environment, its rivers and hills — the whole ambience of Ireland is about the environment, which is why people come here. When Senator Ross talks about removing the fetters of Government from the mining industry, he is asking for a recipe for total disaster in respect of the environment. [1820] Giving people an unfettered right to seek minerals at any cost to the rest of the community or the State is a recipe for madness and would be rejected by any sensible Government.

I do not disagree for a second——

Mr. Cassidy: It is an interesting difference of philosophy.

Mr. Magner: ——that entrepreneurs should be encouraged to develop the mining industry and whatever minerals we have in a sensible and structured way which constitutes the least damage to the environment. However, I have no doubt that that requires not just Government regulation but also constant appraisal by the Government of the macro value to the country of allowing mining to take place wherever minerals are discovered.

The image conjured up of mining is probably of Klondyke or the Australian gold rush and massive wealth, which sometimes happens. However, the dry hole is more often the case and people lose substantial amounts of money. In that context I never had a problem, and neither did the Labour Party, in relation to the exploitation of not just minerals in the ground but also of oil under the seas around our coasts. We never had a problem with encouraging companies or individuals to exploit the resources or whatever could be found around the coast.

Mr. Cassidy: Why should they have a problem?

Mr. Magner: However, we had a terrible hang up about giving them the whole shooting gallery for nothing. Perhaps, Senator Ross and others might think that we were silly about that. However, we took the view that Irish oil should be essentially owned by Irish people and that while its development should reward the risk taker, the main beneficiaries should be the people of Ireland. I had huge reservations about the Irish becoming the Arabs of the early part of the century——

[1821] Mr. Cassidy: Those were the good days.

Mr. Magner: ——who were given the equivalent of beads, in American Indian terms, for their oil for many years before they realised the value of what they had. They then showed the entrepreneurial spirit and squeezed us until we yelled. Therefore, to correct Senator Ross, the Labour Party has always encouraged the development of mining——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to refrain from mentioning Senator Ross and to speak to the Bill.

Mr. Cassidy: It is very unfair.

Mr. Magner: It is very difficult because one expects support from a colleague but I find that I have to turn around and face my own army.

Mr. Cassidy: There is a big difference on the Government side.

Mr. Magner: All I am saying is that it makes it doubly difficult.

Mr. Cassidy: Revolution has broken out.

Mr. Magner: All I can say to Senator Cassidy is that if the revolution ever comes, I suggest that he revisits——

Mr. Cassidy: It is the Wicklow jitters.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Magner, on the Bill.

Mr. Magner: I am appealing for your protection from the harassment which I am getting from the other side.

Mr. Cassidy: The Senator is leading by example.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Magner, without interruption.

[1822] Mr. Magner: One more point which I would like to make in the light of the Irish entrepreneurial spirit is that when the mine in Tara was being developed, Bula then came on stream. There was then a massive legal battle — ongoing, as far as I know — about the ownership of the lode under the earth. That had enormous consequences for the development of mining and the creation of employment, and it is nothing short of a disgrace that it was allowed to drag on for many years without resolution. If that joint body had been developed we would be talking about smelters and very substantial downstream industry, but it never came about because greed became the predominant emotion as far as the so-called entrepreneurs were concerned. They were more concerned with grabbing the lot than developing it on behalf of themselves and the Irish people.

As has been said, the Bill is essentially a technical one, but it gives us the pleasure or the pain of roaming over the whole mining industry. As Senator Quinn said, it is a substantial employer, which employs a couple of thousand people in mining itself and there are also many ancillary jobs. I do not wish to comment too much on the Bill as it is technical legislation and none of us is that competent to judge whether it is necessary, but one presumes that it is. Unlike Senator Ross, I have faith in the good will of the Government to only bring forward legislation when it is necessary and desirable to so do. Perhaps, we will part company on that point.

I will not refer to the person to whom I referred previously, a Leas-Chathaoirligh——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Thank you.

Mr. Magner: ——except to say that he is, as ever, totally wrong.

Mr. Cassidy: Joe Bermingham lives on.

[1823] Mr. Mooney: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I hope that we meet in heaven as we seem to be meeting so often in this environment. I am sorry that Senator Magner is on his way out of the Chamber because I was going to make some brief comment on his robust defence of the Labour Party and the interests of mining in this country.

I come from a unique area, the Arigna valley. My late father had a letter from the present Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, who was Minister for Energy in the short lived 1982 Government. Perhaps I am getting my Tánaistes mixed up, in that I know that Mr. O'Leary was also Minister for Energy during the three Governments of the 1981-82 period.

The correspondence centred around the establishment of a second coal mining power station on the shores of Lough Allen to complement the existing station which was burning crow coal from the Arigna mines and providing over 300 jobs. Following successive geological surveys, it had been established that on the other mountain overlooking Lough Alien, Sliabh an Iarainn, there were, and still are, millions of tons of a form of crow coal with a high ash content. At that time it would have required quite complicated technology to extract the quality coal from the ash. The ash content comprised 60 per cent, which is very high, and would require a form of open cast mining.

There was a great deal of agitation right through the 1970s and early 1980s. When Labour came into Government during that period, it was in the forefront — Senator Magner has, once again, robustly defended its policy — of defending and nurturing our natural resources. The initiative by Mr. O'Leary, and, subsequently, by Deputy Spring, was welcomed by the people in my part of the country. The letters are still there to show that there was a commitment given that there would be a second power station built which would secure the employment of that area for considerable decades to come. The [1824] Leas-Chathaoirleach will know about this better than most because he, like myself and many of our colleagues, was involved in a political context in the eventual decline and fall of the Arigna mining industry. That is no longer the case and mining is no longer a major industrial employer in that part of the world.

This Bill and the report on a new minerals policy have probably come a little too late for the people of Roscommon, Leitrim and parts of Sligo. The die is cast. The power station is closed and the mining industry and its expertise, such as it was, have been scattered to the four winds although there are still millions of tons of crow coal lying unexcavated in the Sliabh an larainn mountains. The Labour Party has always offered the robust defence to the public that it, like Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil — I am not sure of Fine Gael's position on this but it probably is the same — has a policy of developing our natural resources. That commitment from the national parties rings rather hollow for the families in the Arigna valley.

The Minerals Development Bill, 1995, is a technical measure whose main purpose is to give specific statutory cover for certain long-standing practices, for renewal of minerals prospecting licences and for charging fees for certain State mining facilities. It is an upgrading of the first mining legislation enacted in 1940. Since this Bill was initiated and debated in the other House, the Minister has published the report of the National Minerals Policy Review Group, which was set up by my colleague. Deputy Noel Treacy, when he was Minister of State with responsibility for Energy in the last Government. The Minister of State referred to this towards the end of his contribution. Like Senator Ross, I am somewhat disappointed that only one paragraph of the Minister's speech is devoted to the National Minerals Policy Review Group's report. I appreciate that his focus was on the specifics of the Bill but I would have expected a little more than [1825] the platitudes he expressed in his comments in this regard.

I pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Deputy Treacy, for his foresight in acknowledging that there was a major need for streamlining and establishing a clearly defined public minerals policy. The recommendations of the review group make interesting reading. I am sure this debate will provide the Minister with an opportunity to explore — if he will excuse the pun — the salient points of this important document. I am particularly impressed with one of the major recommendations of the report — that minerals development should be actively promoted in Ireland and that all county councils should be made aware of the mineral resources in their area and the role that they can play in the overall development of their areas. The report also points out that minerals do not feature as part of industrial development at local or national level. It states that the recent national development plan does not mention minerals.

I particularly welcome the report's reference to the county councils. I am sure my colleagues who are members of county councils will enthusiastically endorse this recommendation, particularly at a time and in an environment in which local councils are under severe threat from what is not so much a democratic deficit as a power and financing deficit. It is initiatives such as this which should be encouraged by Government. A greater amount of this developmental role should be devolved to local authorities.

I appreciate that mining requires a specific expertise that might not always be available to local authorities. However, the report makes a number of suggestions in this area. I was surprised to learn from the report that there is no mention of minerals in the national development plan, although the Minister will no doubt correct that situation in his new office. This is not necessarily an implied criticism of the present or previous Governments — many county development plans also do not consider [1826] the role that minerals can play in the development of local industry. As Senator Quinn said, there appears to be a considerable absence of urgency or awareness at national and local level of the importance of mineral development in this country.

I am impressed with the review group's suggestion that the Geological Survey of Ireland should provide information packages for use within central and local government, combined with briefings and seminars on relevant topics. It is a focused and specific area of expertise which is not always available to local authorities, so the role of the Geological Survey of Ireland in this regard should be encouraged.

Surveys and excavations have been carried out on the Cavan-Leitrim border, particularly around Blacklion, which traditionally has produced high levels of gypsum. As a youngster I was enthralled by the massive transports of the Canadian mining firm which has worked these deposits on and off over the last 40 years. Massive trucks and lorries with huge tyres came trundling through the small town of Drumshanbo at all hours of the day and night and they were quite intimidating. They were also impressive and gave the appearance of activity in an area that had suffered great economic decline following partition. However, these activities ran independently of any input from the local councils. In that regard I hope the Minister will act speedily on the second recommendation of the National Minerals Policy Review Group and create an environment in which county councils can play a leading role in mineral development.

The Minerals Development Bill, 1995, comes into law at a time when mining exploration, both onshore and offshore, is at an all-time high. There are currently almost 500 mineral prospecting licences in force, of which about 300 fall due for renewal this year. This clearly indicates that there was a need for a statutory measure to protect the State and the applicants in the unlikely event of any of the parties [1827] seeking legal redress, although the Minister has pointed out that all licences from 1940 to date were renewed by successive Ministers in good faith, including hundreds of licences currently in force. It is a matter of public record that this long-standing practice of renewals and successive renewals has not given rise to any difficulty or challenge. Clearly, however, this state of affairs could not be allowed to continue in a modern environment, where litigation now seems to be the first option rather than an instrument of last resort. The experience of other countries, where there is, perhaps, a more developed mining structure, is that litigation between companies and governments is the order of the day.

I wish to echo the views of my colleague, Deputy Treacy, who said that he cannot understand why this Bill is being introduced so quickly as the mandate of the National Minerals Policy Review Group was for such a short period and its report has been with the Minister since the end of last year. I realise that the publication date was May and I am not suggesting that it was available at the end of last year. However, the mandate of the policy review group was to report by the end of the year. From the time that the report would have reached the Minister's desk to its publication date to now is more than just one month. I appreciate that the Bill was initiated in the other House in March, but I have not been able to ascertain whether the report was with the Minister at that time. I am anxious to learn why it was felt necessary to introduce this Bill at this time. Even if the Minister clarifies the time space between the drafting and initiation of this Bill and the review group's report, I still fail to understand, as a number of colleagues in both Houses have mentioned, why it was believed necessary to introduce this legislation at this time in the context of the request for an overall review of our national minerals policy. This is not by way of opposition to this legislation; it is purely an inquiry. I suggest it might [1828] have been a better use of the legislative process if the Minister had stayed his hand and introduced this purely technical measure as part of a wider minerals Bill incorporating the recommendations of his own policy review group.

During the tenure of the last Government, the Arcon controversy emerged, the fallout from which reflected little credit on some politicians in Leinster House. Deputy Treacy states that the application of Arcon Mines Limited was the last mining licence granted by the former Minister and his Department and that both he and the then Minister, Deputy Cowen, were deeply involved in this application and left no stone unturned to ensure that every detail pertaining to it was fully considered.

Deputy Treacy feels rightly aggrieved, and I echo that view, that no one on the Government side has to date acknowledged publicly that both he and Deputy Cowen were always motivated by hard work and dedicated effort to ensure that the resources in the southeast of this country would make a major contribution to local, regional and national economic development. I have no wish to go down the well-trodden road of the Arcon controversy. However, there is a long-standing practice in this House when one Administration takes over from another. Yesterday the Minister of State publicly acknowledged the work of his predecessor on the Tourism Bill. This might be a timely opportunity to acknowledge the work of those two public servants during that controversy.

Deputy Treacy also raised the question of consultants in the application process and this has been dealt with in the Bill. I would like to be assured by the Minister that his Department will not be obliged to employ unnecessary outside consultants. I ask him to acknowledge that there is sufficient expertise within the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications to process in a professional manner any mining application or renewal. The Minister touched on this in his speech and is obviously somewhat sensitive to [1829] suggestions that there may be an unnecessary waste of public money.

The Minister went to some lengths to explain why he believes it may be necessary from time to time, depending on the complexities of the application, to bring in outside consultants. It is a valid request that there would not be any unnecessary employment of outside consultants. We are plagued in this country with consultants, consultancies, the theory of consultancies and the concept of consultancies. We have more consultants than we have lawyers, doctors or even politicians. Of course, they have a role, but sometimes consultants take on a much more enhanced role than that which was originally envisaged for them.

I ask the Minister to clarify the position relating to section 5 of the Bill which deals with application fees. My understanding is that there is currently a long-standing practice, which is not enshrined in law, to charge a nonreturnable handling fee. This fee can sometimes be as high as £200,000 where the application is for a mining lease or licence. I am grateful for clarification on this point. The Minister outlined the regulations under which he intends to introduce the fees following an amendment in the other House. However, I share the concerns expressed elsewhere that a handling fee of this proportion might be a disincentive to mining companies. I appreciate that the figure I mentioned probably only applies to large mining companies dealing with zinc or lead.

I would be grateful if the Minister outlined whether there is any hope of mineral discovery offshore under the current round of licences. I note that Aran Energy is active on the western seaboard off County Galway, where the use of modern technology has enabled that company to probe deeper into our waters in a cost effective manner. They are hopeful, according to press reports, that they can produce oil in sufficient quantities to make it commercially viable. Can the Minister assure the House that he is satisfied that of the [1830] almost 500 mineral prospecting licences currently in force in this country——

Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely): I understand there is a time limit.

Mr. Mooney: I thought I had 20 minutes.

Acting Chairman: The opening speaker had 20 minutes and the Senator has 15 minutes.

Mr. Mooney: I was not given an indication at the outset. I am almost finished, if the Chair will indulge me. I ask the Minister to assure the House that he is satisfied that, of the almost 500 mineral prospecting licences currently in force, the applicants are active in exploring their franchise areas and not retaining these licences to prevent other companies from coming into Ireland.

I reiterate the call for more comprehensive legislation in the area of mineral development. There have been some notable onshore successes, but despite the odd offshore success — Senator Ross also referred to this — the last 30 years have been spectacularly uneventful. Ireland has had a disappointing record in mining exploration. Senator Ross referred to the euphoria — he may not have used that word but I will — which greeted the Kinsale Head discovery in the mid-1980s. There were several false starts in the mid-1980s which set off a boom in mining shares, but this has considerably dissipated in recent years. Many people were badly burnt after buying shares in a hole in the ground.

There has not been any significant development of oil off our shores; yet there was a great mood of euphoria in the early 1980s when many licences were handed out in the early rounds. I am not suggesting that the Minister tell us that oil will be discovered off the south-east or south-west coast or in Kildare. However, is there any information available to his Department that would give us some cause for optimism in that regard? I accept this type of [1831] exploration is not an exact science, but can I be assured by the Government that it will treat mineral exploration more seriously than previous Governments did in the past?

A start was made by my colleagues, Deputies Cowen and Treacy, in setting up the National Minerals Policy Review Group. The Minister has the group's report now and he has acknowledged that. I hope the high standards set by Deputies Cowen and Treacy will be continued by this Government. I commend the Bill and agree with the sentiments expressed about the objectives to be attained by this Bill. I wish it well.

Mr. Maloney: I welcome the Minister back to the House and the opportunity to address this important Bill and discuss the implications of mining. The Bill will provide a solid legislative basis for our mining industry. Exploration requires considerable investment by corporate bodies, who may never receive any dividend from it. For that reason, it must be encouraged.

The Bill deals with areas which are not included in the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 and 1979, such as the renewal and successive renewal of mineral prospecting licences, application fees for State mining leases and licences and offences by corporate bodies such as companies and other organisations. It is important that we address this issue so that the bodies that may be affected by such developments know their exact position if they offend. The Bill also increases the penalties for a variety of offences — for example, obstruction of authorised officers and unlawful mining provided for in the 1940 Act.

There has not been a great deal of mining in recent years, hence the lack of pressure to introduce changes. In my own county no mining has been done since the 19th century and at that time it was for iron ore. A number of years ago there was some discussion about uranium in the Fintown area, but that was quickly stopped. Many mining licences were granted by Ministers since [1832] 1940 and it necessary to safeguard the renewal and successive renewal of these licences.

This Bill gives statutory effect to the long-standing practice of requiring applicants for State mining licences to pay an appropriate fee to cover the Minister's cost in considering applications. Most Members will agree that considerable expenditure is necessary for the professional expertise required to examine mining industry proposals. In the case of a major complex mine project, external consultancy services could cost up to £200,000 and it is important that the State is protected from having to cover such costs. The Bill also provides an opportunity to strengthen the law to protect both State-owned and privately owned minerals by increasing the original penalties for offences provided for in the 1940 Act and applying them to offences by corporate bodies. Under existing law only individuals are covered.

We have an obligation to protect our environment while making full use of our natural assets. Mineral ores should be fully developed to create jobs, to contribute to gross domestic product and to take on a pivotal role in industrial growth. The Bill obliges the Minister to protect the environment and he must be satisfied that any proposed development would cause as little harm as possible to the environment. A full environmental impact statement will have to be prepared and submitted to the Department in this regard.

The safeguards already in place for mining licences include penalties if the site is not explored after a licence is granted. Since November 1994 the terms applicable to prospecting licences include an obligation on licensees to undertake an approved programme of work for each of the three two year periods and to submit a work report for each period. This will ensure that licences are not used to freeze prospective sites. If developers are granted licences to explore hundreds or perhaps thousands of acres but fail to do so others who may wish to explore such [1833] lands are prevented from doing so. This legislation will at least ensure that developers are obliged to carry out the works within a specific period.

Our mineral sector has suffered because of Europe's recession but recent recovery provides an opportunity to increase employment. I welcome the Minerals Policy Review Group report. This report has identified the contribution of the mineral industry, both directly and indirectly through job creation, to the national economy. People will be surprised at the extent of this contribution. We must evaluate the potential for downstream industrial development using Irish mine production and review the international competitiveness of Irish mining. Developments to date will prove that we are one of the most advanced countries in this regard, particularly in the context of Tara mines.

Investment that involves the creation of additional jobs should be considered with an open mind. We have not always reaped the benefits which the investment of large amounts of funding would bring to this labour intensive area. We must also examine the potential and associated costs of a more aggressive approach to the promotion of Ireland as a favourable location for mineral exploration and the energy or energies best suited to undertaking such promotions. For that reason it is important that the Minister strikes a fair balance between protecting the environment and encouraging people to explore while being conscious of environmental legislation which would make such exploration almost impossible. We must also review the provisions of the Mineral Development Acts, 1940 to 1979, with particular reference to the extent to which the financial terms of State mining facilities should be standardised and published and the State's role under the 1979 Act.

Protection of the environment must be top of the agenda in all of this. Because of the difficulties which have arisen in recent years local authorities have had to employ experts in environmental [1834] protection. Ground water in particular must be protected because that is the only source of drinking water available in rural Ireland. In many places it has been proved that ground water sources can easily be polluted, for example, by sumps and septic tanks. When the rock is cracked and a substance seeps into the ground water source, it is practically impossible to stop it. For that reason the local authority must be the monitoring body with total responsibility for exploration. It is not right that the company doing the exploration should be the watchdog.

I welcome the recommendations in the report to delegate certain powers to local authorities. The local authority must be informed in advance about what a company intends to do and when. That can be done by notifying the planning officer and arranging meetings on site to ensure that what is being done is in the interests of everybody and also in the interests of protecting the environment; nor can the fisheries board be ignored, because of its interest in the tourism industry because if we allow our lakes and rivers to be affected it would do great damage to the industry.

The Office of Public Works has a major role to play because it identifies the archaeological sites throughout the country. In most areas where mining has taken place this can be clearly seen. For that reason the Office of Public Works must be informed in advance because there would not be much point in a company identifying a mine and then being prevented from mining at a later stage for archaeological or other reasons. There must be a co-ordinated approach to the exploration. Somebody must do the co-ordinating and the local authority, which has the knowledge of the area, the expertise and the staff, should play a central role in protecting the environment in the context of mining and exploration.

I welcome the Bill. It will go some way towards dispelling the fears that exist. It will also encourage people to invest and explore. We have a long way to go to overcome our long term unemployment [1835] problems and there is no greater way than by encouraging highly labour intensive industries such as mining. This industry employs many people directly and the benefits of such employment to the local economy are immeasurable.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Daly: This Bill is not particularly important in the overall context of the importance of the mining industry in Ireland and its future developments. It deals with the validation of licences and technical matters but it affords an opportunity to discuss in broad terms the whole development of the Irish minerals industry and future policy in that regard. I wish to put on record our appreciation of the very valuable document which was published in April of this year, A New Minerals Policy, which is the report of a committee set up by the Minister's predecessor. Deputy Treacy.

We have not exploited our natural minerals or our other natural resources to the greatest extent possible. Many people question the wisdom of exploiting our mineral resources, mainly because of a lack of knowledge of the industry and of the contribution it can make, both in terms of employment and the revenue which can accrue to the national economy. This Bill affords us an opportunity to draw the attention of the public to the importance of the Irish mining industry for the economy and to the necessity of revitalising our national minerals industry, thereby creating further employment opportunities and revenue for the State.

I welcome the opportunity for discussion presented by this Bill. Like Senator Mooney, I wish to see far more comprehensive legislation before the House soon which would enable us to create the kind of climate favourable to the development of one of our natural resources. The Minister has the very onerous task of bringing forward, as soon as possible, legislation along the lines suggested in the report. The report [1836] highlights the need for a new national minerals policy with clear objectives, clearly setting out lines of responsibility.

Some developments which have already occurred are favourable to the development of an Irish minerals policy. In the forties and the seventies we enacted progressive mining legislation; for example, we established the Environment Protection Agency. Because of legislation passed within the last few years this agency can carefully monitor and assess the industry and ensure that the proper safeguards are put in place to protect the environment.

I fully endorse the view expressed here that the environment is very important and must be protected. To a large extent the mining industry has been seen in the same light as interpretative centres in relation to heritage matters. Mining has been seen as a danger to the environment and a problem area that people should keep away from. This is not the real situation. With specific environmental safeguards in place it will be possible to have a viable development of the mining industry, which would enhance its contribution to employment and to the economy.

I agree with the view expressed in the National Minerals Policy Review Group's report that it is necessary that county councils are made aware of the mineral potential in their jurisdiction. Mineral development in my constituency, County Clare, has largely been confined to a few initial tests, which were done in the late 1950s and early 1960 in relation to oil exploration. A well was bored in Doonbeg a few miles from where I live. At the time there were great expectations, but they did not fully materialise. Nevertheless, there is still a view that there are sufficient resources there to look again at that site. The Minister might direct the attention of his officials to the exploration area near Doonbeg, which was abandoned 20 years ago. Because of the change in circumstances since then it might now be a valuable resource.

There were also some indications of a gas find at that time. A few years ago [1837] Gerry O'Neill, a businessman from Ennis, was involved in an attempt to carry out further explorations in near Mullagh in west Clare. Apart from those two instances most of the interest has centred around east Clare, near O'Callaghan's Mills, Killaloe and Scariff. A few licences have been issued, mainly to individuals and small companies interested in calcium, calcite and other minerals.

There has never been a great awareness in County Clare — in the local authority, in business circles or in the Shannon development company — in relation to what may be valuable mineral resources, especially in east Clare. For that reason I endorse the view of the review group which suggests that local authorities should be made aware of this. I suggest that the Minister avail of the opportunity to draw the attention of local authorities to the reports, which are produced every six months. I was not aware of that until I made inquiries at the Department recently. These six monthly reports give some detail, although not as much as we would wish. We would like to see some results from the exploration which has taken place in east Clare in the past 20 years.

The IDA, in particular, should pay attention to the opportunities and the prospects for creating enterprise and developing employment, which could be achieved from some of this work. I am not sure if the IDA has a mandate in relation to mining and exploration but if it has, it is sparingly used. The failure to attract foreign investment seems to be a handicap to the development of the mining industry. The IDA and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company might direct their attention in that regard to see if it could be integrated into their overall industrial promotion and activity drive.

We must understand that failure to exploit our mineral resources is a failure to exploit our natural resources. We have failed to fully exploit and develop not only our mineral resources but also some of our marine, agricultural and other natural resources. The Minister [1838] should avail of this opportunity to outline EU policy in relation to mining. I am not sure of anything is being done in this regard. As we approach our Presidency of the European Union, we might take the initiative and ensure that in any efforts to revitalise our small mining industry, we avail of EU funding to enable work to be done in that regard.

I have no difficulty with this technical legislation. From my inquiries, I am certain that issues about which I was concerned are already covered. I was worried about safety on sites. Like the environmental protection legislation, we have enlightened safety in industry legislation and a safety authority has been established. Safety issues are fully catered for, although not perhaps in this legislation. A fine of £5 for failure to comply with the regulations should be increased because even fines for parking offences are higher.

The Minister should push ahead with the significant work done by his predecessor. If he can make a dynamic impact in this dormant industry, it would be widely welcomed because it would create more revenue for the State and more employment opportunities. As regards my county, will the Minister indicate whether the exploration licences which have been in operation there for the past 20 years are yielding any results and if we might strike gold?

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): The Bill, while of a technical nature, is nonetheless an important and urgent measure aimed at filling gaps in the statutory framework for mineral prospecting and development. The three purposes of the Bill are to make express statutory provision for a renewal of minerals prospecting licences and validate licences renewed to date since enactment of the Minerals Development Act, 1940, in effect, to give statutory cover for the status quo; to secure procurement of costs of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications in considering applications for State mining leases or [1839] licences under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1979, whether the applications are successful; and to update the original penalties for offences under the Minerals Development Act, 1940, to the new maximum set out in section 6 and apply the increased penalties to offences by bodies corporate so as to deter would be offenders and to protect minerals, State owned and others, from illegal workings.

A number of Senators made points with which I will deal. Senator Cassidy asked why there was a drop-off in the number of licences held between 1980 and 1990. That is explained by the mad gold rush which occurred and the holding of 300 gold prospecting licences, which came to an abrupt end when the former Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, revoked the gold mining licences for my native county of Mayo and Croagh Patrick and approximately 300 licences were handed in shortly after that; I do not have the exact figure.

Mr. Cassidy: Another miracle.

Mr. Stagg: That is why a high level of goldmining licences were issued at that stage. There has been steady progress in the number of applications and in the roll-over and turnover of licences since that time. The introduction of the special licence for unexplored ground — with a fee of £1,000 compared to the normal £2,500 — is also having the desired effect. There are 400 licences available under that scheme. Another Senator suggested that the reduction in the number of licences was the fault of socialists but I do not think Deputy Molloy would fit into that category by any stretch of the imagination.

Senator Ross asked why the Minister is the final arbiter. He complained about the number of possible bodies that an applicant had to go through to get a final decision. It is not much different to the normal planning procedure. There is a very good reason for the required, detailed planning procedure [1840] for mining. This arises from a situation where it is known that mining, if not properly handled, can be very detrimental to the environment on a permanent and lasting basis. It is highly desirable that the Minister, who is democratically responsible to the people and the Houses of the Oireachtas, should be the final arbiter. It would be a major democratic deficit if some quango or other body, not democratically responsible, were to have that power. I will not be seeking a move away from the situation where the Minister has authority to issue licences. Deputy Ross also inquired about——

Mr. Cassidy: He is not a Deputy yet. He did not stand.

Mr. Stagg: Senator Ross also inquired about the position of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Lowry, on the report. This has been referred to repeatedly. I will quote from the Minister's press release from 12 May:

The Minister is committed to giving urgent and careful attention to the 52 Recommendations in the Report and would, therefore, welcome comments as quickly as possible. The Minister's intention is to seek Government decisions on those Recommendations as soon as that consultative process has been completed. Those Recommendations have not been considered in detail by the Government and, therefore, publication of the Report is not an endorsement of those Recommendations or acceptance of the costs of their implementation.

That is the Government's position. This new report was put before Government in April and published in May. There should now be a reasonable period of consultation before it goes any further. A number of speakers asked why this Bill is being introduced now and why the Government did not wait for the report, the consultation and a full policy review in that period. The report was submitted to the Minister in April 1995 [1841] and was published on 12 May 1995. The Bill now being dealt with was initiated by Deputy Cowen prior to those dates. This is simply an urgent response to legal advice received at that time.

Senator Quinn asked why the State was involved and what was its exact role. The State's role is that of a facilitator, encouraging development and enabling people to exploit their licences and mineral rights. At the same time the State ensures that there is a balance between that exploitation of minerals and the needs and interests of others, including the environment.

Senator Mooney suggested that I should publicly acknowledge the role of my predecessors in this area. I did that in the Dáil during the debate on this Bill. Deputy Cowen and Deputy Treacy, as Ministers in the Department, were directly involved in initiating the Bill and setting up the review group which has now presented its report.

A question was also asked about the hiring of unnecessary consultants. I want to assure the House that no unnecessary consultants will be hired. With regard to fees, these are pitched in proportion to the size and complexity of the mines involved. If, for example, the output of a mine is 1 million tonnes per annum, the fee for that scale of mine would be £100,000 plus the £15,000 fixed fee.

Senator Mooney also inquired how activity by licence holders was ensured. I dealt with that in some detail in my opening remarks. I do not think it is necessary to report that. Senator Mooney also downgraded, somewhat, our activity and success in discovering offshore oil and gas.

Mr. Cassidy: Some bad experience perhaps?

Mr. Stagg: I would like to inform that House that in a recent round of licensing all the major players have been attracted back and awarded licence blocks in the Porcupine Bank. I do not wish to push up the price of shares by saying this but there are very real expectations [1842] that oil will now be found there in exploitable quantities and will be brought ashore in the relatively near future.

Mr. Cassidy: The last round?

Mr. Stagg: In the recent round, about six weeks ago, I announced licences for the Porcupine Bank. Eight wells will be drilled this year costing in the region of £20 million each. That is the type of commitment being made by the oil companies in that regard.

Mr. Cassidy: Well done.

Mr. Stagg: Senator Daly raised a number of questions concerning the situation in County Clare. Clare Calcite has recently applied for planning permission for a calcite mine. Clare County Council has made its decision on the application but the Environmental Protection Agency has yet to consider it. However, that application is progressing. I will bring the Senator's points concerning Doonbeg to the attention of my officials to see if that matter can be further activated. I agree that local authorities should be informed about the six-monthly report and any other information they might require. For some reason, the remit of the IDA does not extend to mining and mineral processing. Senator Daly recommended that the IDA'S remit should be extended and that will be considered in the examination of the review. EU mining policy is only involved in gathering information but, arising from recent developments in Austria, Sweden and Finland, there is a possibility that a new policy will be developed in that regard.

In conclusion, there is no opposition to the Bill or amendments coming forward in the House. It is a technical Bill to meet the urgent requirements of legal advice given to my predecessors which is now being acted upon. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

[1843] Acting Chairman: When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Mr. Maloney: Next week, subject to agreement by the Whips.

Acting Chairman: Next Wednesday?

Mr. Maloney: It says next week, the Whips have to decide.

Acting Chairman: A date must be fixed.

Mr. Stagg: If the House is agreeable I can take Committee and Final Stages now.

Acting Chairman: No. It was agreed on the Order of Business that only Second Stage would be taken today. We want to know for what date Committee Stage will be ordered.

[1844] Mr. Maloney: Next Wednesday, subject to the agreement of the Whips.

Acting Chairman: A date must be agreed. The significance of the date does not mean anything but Committee Stage must be ordered for a certain date.

Mr. Maloney: Next Wednesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 14 June 1995.

Acting Chairman: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Maloney: At 2.30 p.m. next Wednesday.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.50 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 14 June 1995.