I propose to answer Questions Nos. 259, 260, and 261 together.
With regard to non-petroleum minerals, as the Deputy knows, exploration in this country is undertaken by holders of prospecting licences granted under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. New exploration is continuously undertaken as part of my requirements to holders of prospecting licences, of which there were 351 current at the end of January 2003. There were 391 licences current at the end of June 2002. My Department continues to be actively engaged in promoting investment interest in minerals exploration from overseas companies, in order to keep the level of exploration in the country as high as possible, given the depressed general global economic situation, and the base metals sector in particular.
No new economic deposits have been discovered in recent years. There have been some encouraging results, however. Exploration adjacent to existing base metal mines at Navan, County Meath – Tara Mines Limited – and Galmoy, County Kilkenny – Arcon Mines Limited – has discovered additional resources which have the potential to extend the life of those mines, and applications for additional State mining facilities for these are at present being dealt with in my Department. My officials have also had discussions with Irish Gypsum Limited regarding that company's plans to develop an underground extension to its existing operation in County Monaghan. A good zinc prospect area near Pallasgreen, County Limerick also has the potential to host an economic deposit and exploration is continuing.