The Earth's Corr: Gold mine public inquiry 'suspension' latest in ongoing saga that evokes the insanity of Fawlty Towers

The Dalradian pre-public inquiry on Wednesday showing a public seated area looking towards an elevated stage with a set of tables on it with people seated at the tables. People are also seated on the public seated area
The Dalradian pre-public inquiry on Wednesday -Credit:Shauna Corr

If it wasn’t all so very serious, you could be forgiven for mistaking the latest instalment in the long and painful saga of Dalradian Gold’s bid to mine in one of our areas of outstanding natural beauty for the pure insanity of Fawlty Towers.

The highly anticipated public inquiry to examine openly the potential impact on our waters, electricity grid, a takeover bid for a historic public road and the mine application itself, didn’t get off to a great start and appeared to cause more concerns among the community that will be impacted.

But in another major turn of events, it has now been suspended. It would appear the fault lies firmly at the feet of the department tasked with protecting our environment because it didn’t make a decision on a water abstraction licence from Dalradian, now ‘deemed refused’.

Read more from The Earth's Corr: Dalradian gold mine 'inquiry' didn't get off to a good start

But Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs officials also gave wrong information about the application’s status to the Planning Appeals Commission at the pre-inquiry meeting.

Leading to letters from the Water Appeals Commission, including what can only be described as a telling off “that the Department’s representative may not have given entirely accurate information”

Cue back rowing, apologies and statements saying that they did not intend to mislead. Whether it was intended or not, is irrelevant.

Those sent to the pre-inquiry meeting were not across their brief in relation to a public inquiry they have had years to prepare for. And that’s what people should be up in arms about.

I’m not going to dissect Dalradian’s application here. The long and the short of it is that they are a private firm that wants to mine gold, silver and copper from NI to profit their shareholders, a purely capitalist endeavour, which is well within their rights.

Dalradian Gold holds six mineral prospecting licenses in Northern Ireland - they are outlined on this DE map with the initials DG
Dalradian Gold holds six mineral prospecting licenses in Northern Ireland - they are outlined on this DE map with the initials DG -Credit:Department for Economy

But the people of Northern Ireland will gain very little if this mine is approved as they won’t see any of the pithy proceeds the Crown Estate takes for giving them access to these precious metals.

The Queen, RIP, already told the people of the Sperrins the Crown would not return the rights to our precious metals to the people of NI - and any money made from the mine should it be approved will go straight to London.

Dalradian says there will be a few hundred jobs - but we’ve already seen that another mining firm was forced to seek permission to hire outside NI for their staff as we just don’t have a workforce with the expertise here.

All that considered, the impacts of the application are far greater than what they will do for us. But that’s where Stormont comes in.

They are tasked with weighing up these things and making sure any and all planning or environmental applications don’t harm our environment or add to inequalities already rife in this wee place.

But their track record on everything from this mining application to Cloghan Point Oil Terminal, Islandmagee Gas Caverns, the RHI scandal, Gas to the West, unlicensed quarrying, sand extraction, Lough Neagh, increasing levels of water pollution, declining wildlife and bird species, air pollution and all of their impacts on us and our health - leave so much to be desired, some days I fell like giving up on the hope things can get better.

Take the Covid Inquiry in Belfast this week, when it was revealed Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride, described the Northern Ireland Executive as “dysfunctional bastards”, in an exchange with Health Minister Robin Swann.

I’m sure many agree with him - but this dysfunctionality wasn’t unique to the pandemic.

If I had a pound for every press release or political statement outlining how departments don’t work together for the good of us all, I’d be a wealthy journo.

Boots on the Beach against Larne lough Gas Caverns, January 2024
Campaigners are calling for no new oil and gas storage

I could honestly scream every time I see or hear “lessons need to be learned” or “learning opportunity” in relation to how the country is run - when those lessons never appear to sink in, lead to any major changes or improve things life.

We effectively have a government being run by four parties, who don’t appear to be able to work together for the greater good.

Instead, Ministers act like majesties of their own wee silos, competing for resources and column inches to shout about the great things they are doing so we vote for them the next time round.

But how does this relate the Dalradian public inquiry you ask?

Well it impacts everything - not least of which is our environment - which in turn impacts just about everything in our lives from health, to the air we breathe, the food we eat and whether we will have clean water in the years to come.

Environmental, climate and biodiversity issues are often cross cutting and need everyone working off the same page to future proof this place and protect us from the major challenges ahead.

But first they need to start doing their own jobs properly and applying the law as it stands.

As I said a number of week ago, they have a big job to do to win back public confidence, it’s about time they started.

More rail closures coming down the line

Great Victoria Street Station closes next week to make way for the new Belfast Grand Central Station
Boots on the Beach against Larne lough Gas Caverns, January 2024 -Credit:FOENI

Anyone who reads this column will know I am a huge advocate for public transport and active travel.

But this week, I reported how 10 rail stations will closed in July and August to connect the new Grand Central Station to the lines.

It has major implications as it will take rail of the table for potentially thousands of passengers.

The cross border Enterprise will be impacted, a train from Bangor to Portadown will be impossible effectively cutting off the west even more than usual and you won’t be able to get a train to Belfast City Hospital.

I know the reason for this major disruption is to improve the rail network and I understand Translink hope it will encourage more people on to trains when they finish.

But I think it’s a huge oversight, that they haven’t been able to offer reduced fares for that period to soften the blow.

I have a few issues with the new transport hub in that the Glider wont’ feed into it - a huge oversight in my mind - while they didn’t take the opportunity to install a rail halt for the nearby Royal Victoria Hospital.

But I am excited to see rail travel in NI getting some major investment and I hope this is the start of a major drive to connect much more of the north by rail.

We need much more investment in rail in the future as it will get more people out of their cars and connect communities felt left behind decades ago when their rail stations were abandoned.

Exterior of York Street Train Station in Belfast
Lough Neagh at the height of the blue-green algae bloom in summer 2023

The new York Street station looks great, shame about having to take two lifts to reach platforms if you have mobility issues.

But it seems to be par for the course with this place - officials never seem to get it all right - and that’s probably because they aren’t given enough money to do these jobs to the best standard possible like so many other countries.

Take the new bike hub at York Street station - it’s fantastic - but where are the bike lanes to get people safely to the station John O’Dowd? Can’t wait to see how you’ll deliver on that front!

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