Public inquiry should be held into plans for Co Tyrone gold mine says minister
There should be a public inquiry into plans for a gold mine in Co Tyrone, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has said.
Local residents have raised concerns about the use of cyanide at the Greencastle site as part of the process.
No planning application has yet been submitted.
Mr Hazzard said: "However if and when a planning application is submitted, I am of the view that it should be subject to an independent public inquiry before any final decision is taken."
Northern Ireland has the seventh richest undeveloped seam of gold in the world, the company behind the project Dalradian has said.
It hopes to submit an application for full planning permission in the near future and has already injected more than £56 million into the project.
It believes the excavation can create many jobs in constructing and operating the site.
Cyanide is used in part of the processing system but Dalradian has said it will be heavily regulated and does not pose a risk to the public or the environment.
A diluted cyanide solution will split gold particles from crushed ore.
Mr Hazzard added: "It is already clear that the planning application, if submitted, 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.
"As DfI Minister I will ultimately be the final decision maker, but I would like the benefit of 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."
Patrick Anderson, chief executive at Dalradian Gold, welcomed the prospect of a public inquiry which he said would provide a further forum in which to engage locally and hear more fully from those who are in favour of, against or neutral on the project.
"This would allow the minister to make a more informed decision when the time comes."
He added: "Our planning application will be a complex one and we want to ensure that as many people as possible are engaged in the process and that the process is rigorous and fair."