Why Northern Ireland could strike it rich with mining
Industry ‘has the potential to transform our economy’
The Northern Ireland mining sector has untapped potential that could transform the economy, an international conference has heard.
The province is now rated among the top 10 in the world for some of its attributes to prospectors.
Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI), part of the Department for the Economy, was at the 2018 conference of The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) as part of its remit to boost our attractiveness as a location for foreign direct investment (FDI).
GSNI is also responsible for maintaining around 2,000 disused mines here.
Firms including Dalradian Resources, which plans a gold mine in Co Tyrone, are operating in Northern Ireland. It has 53 direct employees and uses around 50 contractors.
And salt is also mined in an extensive operation by the Irish Salt Mining Exploration Company in Co Antrim.
Dr Marie Cowan, director of the Geological Survey of NI, said it had been travelling to the conference for many years to raise the profile of NI to potential investors.
It had a number of selling points, she said. "It has a relatively low cost to operate here and you can get from one end of Northern Ireland to another in two hours.
"It has an excellent road and rail network."
Such amenities made the province attractive to firms used to locations which were not even served by roads, she added.
The four-day conference in Toronto is geared towards raising funds for early to mid-stage mining projects like Dalradian's Curraghinalt project near Gortin. The event attracts around 25,000 people from 130 countries.
An Ireland-focused event at the conference heard Dalradian's project described as the island's "flagship" mining venture and potentially the second-biggest gold mine in Europe.
Dr Cowan said the province had significant potential: "We have a very rich mining history in our 14,000sq km.
"We have the most diverse geology on the planet and we have a very diverse mining heritage dating back to Celtic times, with sub-surface mining going back to the 17th century." Historically, mining had taken place for lignite between Ballymoney and the western shores of Lough Neagh, while coal had been mined in Coalisland and Ballycastle. And the village of Derrynoose in Co Armagh was also a location for lead and zinc mining.
But Dr Cowan said gold mining was the "21st century story" for mining here.
And she said that industry think-tank the Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies had now ranked NI highly in its chart of the world's most 'investable' locations. "Last year was the first year a request was made to include NI in its own right," she added.
"In its first year it was listed at number 10 out of 104 in the policy perception index. Now it's moved up to number six in the world in terms of the administration established to enable foreign direct investment."
That rating related to the work of GSNI to provide data on geology, as well as the fact that activity had been taking place since the 17th century.
"It has the potential to be a significant player in the Northern Ireland economy and a game changer in attracting industry," Ms Cowan said.
Dalradian Resources has submitted a planning application for a mine at Curraghinalt.
But the plans have attracted opposition from groups in the area who fear it will ruin the natural beauty of the Sperrins.
Dr Cowan said part of its remit was to ensure that the environment was protected through the mining process.
That included preserving an area at the end of a mine's life.
She said some of Northern Ireland's most famous natural sights, including Co Down's Castle Espie and Scrabo Tower, had formerly been quarrying locations which had been later restored.
In November Dalradian said it had secured a £46.3m investment following the exploration of the Curraghinalt site. It said the mine would generate $1bn for the economy over 25 years.