Mockery of democracy

Mining company Flintridge Resources will be allowed to drill boreholes as ‘permitted development’. They will be round a controversial goldmine at Cavanacaw, four miles upwind of Omagh town centre.

The five establishment parties allowed this through the latest meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. The Ulster Unionist Party, the DUP, and the SDLP voted in favour. The Alliance Party claims to be anti-mining, but its sole councillor didn’t attend. Sinn Féin proposed opposition, but seven of its councillors were either absent or did not take part in the vote. The Sinn Féin chair of the meeting neither voted, nor used his casting vote, which could have stopped the boreholes.

Council officers recommended Councillors accept the application for the boreholes. Proposals to reject and accept were both deadlocked 11-11. Because the Council had thus not taken a decision, legislation means the development is now permitted. Thus making a mockery of democratic processes.

Before the issue was discussed, Ulster Unionist Councillor Robert Irvine objected to Militant Left Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh and anti-goldmining councillor Emmet McAleer taking part. “I believe they have perceived declarations of interest, whether they declare it or not, therefore they can’t determine the next item,” Irvine said. He sought legal advice from the Council’s solicitor.

Donal objected strongly. “I have been elected to represent the interests of working class people,” he said. He and Emmet were allowed to remain and vote.

The application is for 17 boreholes from eight starting points, drilled over 16 weeks. They will be from between 97 metres (318 feet) to 234 metres (768 feet) deep. The Cavanacaw goldmine has a long record of failure to comply with planning conditions. The Ombudsman has ruled Planning Service catastrophically failed to enforce planning conditions. When recommending acceptance, Council planning chief Darren Lawlor said the mining company had previously sought retrospective planning permisssion for 41 boreholes, initially drilled without planning permission. The company has also drilled at least three others without permission “that the Council knows about.” Lawlor said “it wasn’t expedient to take enforcement action” after the unauthorised boreholes were inspected.

Seconding the proposal to refuse permission, Donal said the past history of unauthorised boreholes “throws a question mark over the trustworthiness of the promoter in the mind of the public… Given the concentration of boreholes that is being proposed on the single site and the knowledge that the concentration of boreholes results in an increased risk of unforeseen cracks and fissures, has a written impact of human impact been conducted?” He also queried whether there had been a risk assessment on the sealant which will be used to close the boreholes.

There was no satisfactory answer to these questions.

At the end of the meeting, Emmet raised questions about procedure. The consultation period was ending on the following day, meaning the meeting was rushed. He sought an emergency meeting on the following day, so the Council could take a decision. However, the Sinn Féin chair cut him off. Thus, a potentially dangerous development has been imposed on an area.

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