Image: A drill site at Dalradian's Tyrone gold project, 120 km west of Belfast
A battle of 'David and Goliath' has been rumbling in the Sperrin Mountains over the past few years between a group of residents and an international mining company.
Dalradian Gold, a Canadian gold exploration company, is exploring the mountains – an area of outstanding natural beauty in County Tyrone – for $3.5bn worth of potential gold.
The proposed mine is located 13 miles from the town of Omagh, close to the communities of Greencastle, Rousky and Gortin.
Residents in the area have expressed concern about major disruption to their way of life and Dalradian Gold's proposed use of cyanide in the mining process as it separates gold particles from extracted ore. They fear that there is the potential for a repeat of a cyanide leak in 2000 at the Baia Mare gold mine in Romania, when the chemical leaked into local rivers, poisoned drinking water and killed over 80 percent of the fish population.
Cormac McAleer, a spokesperson for a local opposition group called ‘Save Our Sperrins’, said he had grave concerns about the use of cyanide.
Mr McAleer claimed the “lack of transparency that has emerged with Dalradian Gold have exacerbated those concerns”.
A spokesperson for Dalradian Gold refuted the 'lack of transparency' claim and said the company has “informed and engaged with the local community and stakeholders through a variety of means since 2009 and currently has a Community Engagement Team on site".
Mr McAleer said he was concerned for the local environment given the proximity of the proposed mine to family homes, schools and the rivers Foyle and Ballinderry.
Friends of the Earth’s director James Orr recently said: “What we see by this type of development is that the community has been left to pay the price. These companies are not wealth creators, but wealth extractors and the cost is very high. It’s not just the cost of policing, but the destruction of landscapes and the fracturing of communities.”
Dalradian Gold claim that in building “Europe's leading gold mine” they will create “at least 650 jobs during operations”.
The company is currently doing exploratory mining for gold at Curraghinalt near Gortin and says more than £120m of the precious metal could be mined annually from the Co Tyrone countryside within just three years.
It also claimed that a fully working mine could support 300 construction jobs during the build, with a further 350 roles during the mine's lifetime.
The future of the proposed mine depends on the outcome of Dalradian’s planning application, which they submit in the coming months.
During the last Assembly, Former Minister for Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard announced in January that any planning application for the Dalradian Gold project will be the subject of an independent public enquiry.
Mr Hazard said: “It is clear to me that the planning application will be both complex and controversial involving a wide range of views and in depth information to assess the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts, both positive and negative, of the proposed development.
“Before any decision is taken it would be beneficial to have a public inquiry and report which has independently considered the views of stakeholders, including the local community, and has scrutinised the information provided by all interested parties.”