Originally published in ‘Militant Left’ Edition 5, Summer 2022
Over recent years, communities in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Tyrone have faced a series of threats from highly-polluting industries seeking to exploit underground mineral resources for private profit. Of course, they are not alone in that, the global scarcity of precious heavy metals and technological development has made it both technically and economically feasible to carry out extractive processes which were previously impossible.
Probably the best known was the attempt by Tamboran Resources to frack for natural gas in West Fermanagh and Leitrim. Due to a powerful mass and cross-community, cross-border mobilisation, attempts to drill at a quarry outside Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh, were defeated after a three-week siege in 2014. Tamboran have not returned since. While there are moves by the likes of Sinn Fein in the Assembly to permanently ban this toxic industry, these are not set in stone and there is every likelihood that with the surge in fuel prices, and shortages due to the war in Ukraine, politicians of all hues may be tempted to reconsider their opposition to fracking.
The other main extractive industry which is on the ground here is gold-mining. This is led by Dalradian which is exploring for the metal at the Curraghinalt deposit in West Tyrone. Also involved are Canadian-based Galantas Gold corporation, which operates a mine outside Omagh under its subsidiary Galantas Irish Gold Ltd.
Mass Campaigns Stop Fracking
Like the anti-fracking campaign, the one against gold-mining in Tyrone has secured mass support; sufficient to elect as councillor independent Emmet McAleer who topped the poll in the mid-Tyrone district electoral area in 2019. The campaign has also forced the concession of a public inquiry into the granting of a licence to extract gold to Dalradian. This, however, will be conducted by a Stormont Minister largely indifferent to the mass opposition on the ground. On the basis of experience to date. it would be expected that this will be a rubber-stamp exercise giving Dalradian the green light.
Despite its alleged opposition to gold mining, and in keeping with its approach to fracking a decade ago, Sinn Fein has had to be pushed into adopting a strong position in defence of local communities; meanwhile the SDLP is split on the issue with the unionist parties generally strongly supportive. This was exemplified in recent months when a planning application for exploratory drilling by Galantas was narrowly passed despite opposition by independent councillors and myself. Curiously, multiple Sinn Fein councillors declared themselves unable to vote on the matter as they had not had time to attend requisite training!
More recently, a new slew of exploration license applications have been submitted. Already in Leitrim, an application submitted under the name of another Galantas subsidiary, Flintridge Resources, for a prospecting license in the Dromahaire area has, predictably, been passed by Green Party Minister Eamon Ryan.
With the pressure on for corporations to deliver profits to shareholders and bondholders through cutting corners on safety and environmental protections, both gold-mining and diamond mining have a reputation as exceptionally polluting industries worldwide. The former usually involves on-site extraction of the precious metal using the poisonous chemical cyanide which all too often poisons water supplies. In both cases, the mining processes to obtain small quantities of the precious minerals are very extensive and intensive and bring to the surface deeply buried toxic chemicals and radioactive elements associated with diseases from cancer, hormonal disorders and birth defects.
Socialist Planning Needed for Rural Development
Communities in rural areas along the border have been bereft of investment or job creation for generations; this reflects the impact of Partition and conflict but also reflects the inherent unwillingness of capital to invest in rural areas where there are lower returns. Some workers cling to the desperate hope that corporate mining companies or the oil and gas industry may create some hope of a decent livelihood – but these industries come with a high price tag in terms of long-term environmental impact and public health but it is also undoubted that corporate-led industrialisation will undermine jobs in the environment, tourism, agriculture and fishing. Instead of mortgaging our future to these polluting industries, communities and the organised working class need to take back control through fighting for socialist planning to ensure that local economic development delivers for us not a privileged global elite.