Minerals Development Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 51, lines 10 and 11, to delete “of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform” and substitute “of the Oireachtas”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 51, line 35, to delete “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2014” and substitute “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2016”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 67, line 29, to delete “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2014” and substitute “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2016”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 73, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

“(3) To facilitate the rehabilitation of mine sites, the Minister shall mandate the Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with local authorities, to identify historic mining sites and associated waste sites that were closed before 1977.”.

This amendment relates to the plethora of historical sites throughout the country, many of which predate the planning permission and environmental protection arrangements now in place. The logic behind the amendment is to have a survey conducted of these historical sites, to create a central register to be managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to advise on decisions to allow for the prospect of remediation of these sites and to allow for a better informed decision-making process when considering planning permission applications and environmental remediation options for these sites in the future.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. In 2006, following incidents at active mine sites in Spain and Romania, the European Union introduced Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of waste from extractive industries. Article 20 of the directive requires member states to produce an inventory of closed mine waste facilities. The directive was transposed into Irish law by SI 566/2009, also known as the Waste Management (Management of Waste from the Extractive Industries) Regulations 2009. Article 20 of the 2009 regulations provides that the EPA shall ensure an inventory of closed waste facilities, including abandoned waste facilities which cause serious negative environmental impacts or which have the potential to become in the medium or short term a serious threat to human health or the environment, is drawn up and periodically updated. Such an inventory which was to be made available to the public was to be carried out by 1 May 2012.

In response to this requirement, a comprehensive historical mine site inventory was undertaken by the EPA, the Geological Survey of Ireland, GSI, and the exploration and mining division of my Department which carried out surveys and analyses of mine sites. The work completed was published and included drawings, maps and diagrams of each of the closed mine sites. The report on the study entitled, Historic Mine Sites - Inventory and Risk Classification, was produced in 2009 and has resulted in the most comprehensive inventory of closed mine sites in Ireland. Geochemical site investigations were carried out at each mine site, consisting of analysis of solid waste, surface water, ground water, stream sediments and soil. There is a detailed review of the geochemistry of each mine site studied for the project. The report classifies the sites that present the greatest threat to human and animal health and the environment. The project initially located 220 mine sites across the country at which there had been extraction of minerals using the GSI databases. Of these, 128 were screened and 110 individual mine sites were identified for inclusion in the historical mine sites study. In the historical mine sites inventory and risk classification study, 27 historical mine sites and districts were assessed using a source pathway receptor conceptual model and then scored and assigned to one of five classes. Three mine sites, at Avoca, Silvermines and Tynagh, were scored at the highest risk. The report is available on the EPA's website.

Given the existing requirement in Irish law for the EPA to maintain a list of mine waste sites and the implementation and publication of the historical mine sites inventory and risk classification study, the Deputy's objectives have already been achieved. As such, it is not proposed to accept the amendment.

That is a reasonable explanation. I am satisfied that the report has been conducted. On that basis, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 75, to delete lines 33 to 41, and in page 76, to delete lines 1 to 3.

Sections 137 to 139, inclusive, of the Bill address obligations under the Aarhus Convention which has been ratified by Ireland in respect of aspects of rehabilitation plans. Where any activity is permitted that may have a significant effect on the environment, the public has a right to participation and ease of access to justice to review decisions. This would normally be addressed through the planning process, but where planning is not applicable, the Minister is subject to the obligations of the convention in respect of any relevant decision. General provision is made for this in sections 203 to 206, inclusive, of Part 7 of the Bill. These sections, however, are intended to apply the same obligations where a person or body other than the Minister, that is, a person authorised under section 135, prepares, revises or adopts a rehabilitation plan. The Attorney General has advised that section 137 is no longer considered necessary and may be deleted. Environmental impacts in regard to rehabilitation plans will be dealt with through the planning process.

Amendment No. 22 is a technical amendment which has been recommended by the Office of the Attorney General on compliance with the Aarhus Convention in respect of public participation in activities which may have a significant effect on the environment. The amendment sets out the criteria that must be considered by the Minister in respect of exploration activities to determine whether they may have a significant effect on the environment and thus whether Article 6 of the convention in respect of public participation shall apply.

I oppose amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, because they remove an entire section relating to a decision on whether a rehabilitation plan will have a significant effect on the environment. Amendment No. 18 removes an entire section relating to public participation. The new section defines the information relevant to the proposed decision with reference to taking account of the public interest. Amendment No. 19 inserts a new section that takes account of public participation, but it is substantially weaker than what is contained in the Bill. We welcome and support amendment No. 22 as it is a positive measure.

In essence, rehabilitation requires planning; therefore, the Aarhus Convention applies automatically. Section 137 is being removed on the advice of the Attorney General following the insertion of the new section which is comprehensive in dealing with rehabilitation plans.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 76, to delete lines 4 to 40, and in page 77, to delete lines 1 to 38 and substitute the following:

“Public participation in preparation and revision of rehabilitation plan

138. (1) Where the rehabilitation authority proposes to prepare or, as the case may be, revise a rehabilitation plan it shall give public notice in accordance with this section and shall consider submissions in accordance with subsection (3).

(2) The rehabilitation authority shall, for the purposes of subsection (1)

(a) deposit in the offices of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and in one or more places to which members of the public have access that are in the vicinity of the area subject to the plan or revised plan, a map showing the boundaries of that area, together with a draft of the plan and the information on which the draft is based, and

(b) publish on the website of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in a national newspaper and in at least one newspaper circulating in the vicinity of that area a notice stating that—

(i) the rehabilitation authority proposes to prepare or, as the case may be, revise the rehabilitation plan,

(ii) a map showing the boundaries of the area subject to the plan, together with a draft of the plan and the information on which the draft is based may be viewed at the places at which they have been deposited in accordance with paragraph (a), and

(iii) the public may send submissions that meet the requirements of subsection (3) to the rehabilitation authority at an address specified in the notice.

(3) The rehabilitation authority shall consider any submissions that—

(a) are in writing and have been delivered to the address specified in the notice under subsection (2)(b) within 21 days after the date of publication of the notice, and

(b) are relevant to the proposed plan.”.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 78, to delete lines 1 to 13 and substitute the following:

“Outcome of public participation on rehabilitation plan

139. (1) Where public participation has taken place in accordance with section 137* the rehabilitation authority shall—

(a) take due account of the outcome of the public participation in its preparation or, as the case may be, revision, of the rehabilitation plan, and

(b) make a copy of the plan or revised plan available to the public at the offices of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and on the Department’s website.

(2) The procedure for seeking judicial review of the preparation or revision of a rehabilitation plan and the costs of any such judicial review are governed by Part 2 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011.”.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 79, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

“(3) A bond shall be created by the Minister to be distributed among relevant local authorities for the purposes of repair of any public infrastructural damage caused by access and other mining activities. This bond shall be financed by means of a levy on applicable licensees.”.

We know that mining can sometimes cause a lot of damage to local infrastructure, for example, due to heavy goods vehicles going in and out of mines, with the resulting damage to roads, bridges and local infrastructure. It is important that the local authorities are protected. While there are mechanisms such as development levies, we believe these levies do not offer sufficient protection for the local authorities in terms of financing remediation of the damage done by HGVs carrying heavy loads in and out of mines. By its nature, mining is an industry which involves heavy materials being transported by road. Huge damage is caused, as we see. We are putting forward this amendment to ensure this would be recognised and provided for into the future.

While I agree with its spirit, again, I have queries about the letter of the amendment. I have seen the type of damage done to the environment and surrounding areas, to which the Deputy refers, be it in regard to mining, quarrying or landfill, with heavy goods activity or heavy engineering activity taking place at different locations. Very often, it is a case of "dig first and ask questions later" in terms of any kind of remediation or tidy-up. It has also been my experience that local authorities are not always best placed or best resourced to manage the remediation that is needed, and sometimes the ship has sailed when they come to try to pursue the operators. However, I have been advised that the amendment may be slightly difficult to implement because the Department, acting on the Minister's behalf, may not be best placed to understand the local scene in regard to what roads remediation is necessary. Perhaps there is an argument that the councils might be better placed to do this and perhaps the planning permission process is the right way to proceed. While I support the gist of the amendment, there may be a better way to achieve it.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue and understand his concern where there are major industries and damage to infrastructure. With regard to the damage caused by access and other mining activities, the relevant local authority has the key role. Mining operations are subject to planning permissions and the local authority engages with the company concerned on such issues. Planning permission is purely a matter for the relevant local authority. Outside of planning requirements, the Bill makes provision for compensation for any damage or nuisance caused by a mining licensee in section 98(1), which states:

Where the exercise of-

(a) a right under a mining licence,

(b) an ancillary underground right, or

(c) an ancillary surface right,

causes a nuisance, or damage to the surface of any land or to water supplies, the licensee is liable to pay compensation for such nuisance or damage.

In addition, section 79(1) provides that the Minister may make regulations setting out a number of conditions, including financial security. Section 79(1)(r) is the relevant paragraph, and refers to, "the provision of financial security in order to ensure that the licensee can pay compensation for damages or nuisance for which he or she may be liable under section 98".

These sections provide that the licensee has a strict liability to pay compensation in respect of any nuisance or damage caused and that financial security can be required from a licensee to ensure compensation is paid. The provisions as set out in sections 98 and 79(1)(r) take a broader approach than the Deputy's proposed amendment in that they are not restricted to either infrastructure or a local authority. The broader nature of this provision is appropriate. A provision was contained in the Minerals Development Act 1940 whereby a licence holder was liable to pay compensation in the event of any damage to the surface of any lands. In addition, all modern mining licences currently contain a condition in respect of financial security which must be put in place to ensure such compensation is paid. Section 79(1)(r) provides the legislative basis for the provision as currently contained in the mining licences and, therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I have listened to the Minister of State's reply. Given water is a huge concern, I am glad that he has given assurances that section 79 of the Bill caters for that issue. With regard to the local authorities, the problem is that their planning enforcement sections are under-resourced and at times hamstrung. They are at times going after minor breaches of the planning code while major breaches are ignored. In the light of experience during the years, I believe many other representatives would concur with this. The breaches by major companies are at times not followed through as diligently because the local authority may fear it is taking on something that is too big and which it does not have the powers to pursue. I believe this is an issue. I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the basis of the assurances given by the Minister of State, but I ask that the point be noted. We have to equip local authorities better and get them to prioritise. There are big issues to be sorted out. Much time in court and ratepayers' money is tied up in going after the small fish while the sharks are left swimming around in the pool.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 98, lines 6 and 7, to delete “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2014” and substitute “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2016”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 98, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“(2) For the purposes of determining whether an activity may have a significant effect on the environment the Minister shall have regard to the following:

(a) the characteristics of the proposed activity, in particular—

(i) the nature and duration of the activity,

(ii) the resource requirements, in particular land, soil and water, of the activity,

(iii) the type and volume of waste produced by the activity and the method proposed for its disposal,

(iv) the measures and protocols proposed in order to minimise environmental impact and the risk of potential pollution or nuisance;

(b) the location and zone of influence of the proposed activity, with particular regard to—

(i) any area proposed as a natural heritage area and the subject of a notice made under section 16(1) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000,

(ii) any area designated as, or proposed to be designated as, a natural heritage area by a natural heritage area order made under section 18 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000,

(iii) any nature reserve established or proposed to be established under an establishment order made under section 15 (as amended by section 26 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000) of the Wildlife Act 1976,

(iv) any nature reserve recognised or proposed to be recognised under a recognition order made under section 16 (as amended by section 27 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000) of the Wildlife Act 1976,

(v) any refuge for fauna or flora designated or proposed to be designated under a designation order made under section 17 (as amended by section 28 of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000) of the Wildlife Act 1976,

(vi) national parks, and

(vii) national monuments (within the meaning of section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930);

(c) the likely impact of the activity on the environment, in particular on—

(i) surface water and groundwater, including the risk to human health from contamination of water sources,

(ii) any area designated as a special area of conservation pursuant to Regulation 14 of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 477 of 2011), and

(iii) any areas designated by the State as special protection areas pursuant to Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 99, line 16, to delete “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2014” and substitute “Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2016”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 104, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

Research and Revitalisation

215. (1) The Minister may undertake, commission, sponsor or facilitate research directed towards—

(a) exploring for minerals,

(b) developing minerals,

(c) rehabilitating mine sites,

in the State and such area to which this Act applies, including, but not limited to, the following:

(i) identifying the mineral potential of extractive waste;

(ii) exploring the recycling, reusing or reclaiming of extractive waste, where this is environmentally sound;

(iii) identifying practices that will facilitate the protection of the environment;

(iv) the potential to improve remediation of the mine and associated waste as part of a process of revitalisation.

(2) Any proposals emanating from this section which involve the revisiting of formerly disused sites shall engage in a period of public consultation prior to activity commencing at that site. During this period of consultation, members of the public and other interested parties shall be free to submit their views on the proposals.”.

The amendment has a broad and specific purpose, namely, to achieve a degree of reuse of abandoned mines. It follows from conversations with the Science Foundation Ireland centre, iCRAG, in regard to the dormant potential of abandoned mines, where rare earth minerals which were once thought to be of no use were included in tailings. Some of the material that was essentially thrown away or left behind is now understood through research to be of great value in the electronics industry and elsewhere. There may be significant merit to revisiting some of these mine sites to investigate their potential. In parallel, where there may have been less than perfect clean-up or closedown of these sites in the past, there is an opportunity to revisit them, both to re-extract commercial or valuable minerals still contained within the tailings and also to avail of the opportunity to remediate and do a better job on clean-up. This also ties in very much with the idea of the circular economy whereby, rather than doing everything from scratch, we re-use, revisit and recycle. To take something that was considered waste and turn it into something that is valuable in every sense is a very valuable thing to do.

That is the specific purpose of the amendment. As Fianna Fáil spokesman on research, I believe every Department should encompass a research element to its work. The broader concept of the amendment is to support and facilitate this in legislation in that the Minister and the Department would have a remit to commission or sponsor research along the lines of the various mineral rehabilitation opportunities that still present at some of these sites.

The amendment states "any proposals emanating from this section which involves the revisiting of formerly disused sites shall engage in a period of public consultation prior to activity commencing at that site". This is to assuage the concerns of local communities that there might be activity on a site that was thought to be closed down. It is recommended in the subsection of the amendment that there be a public consultation exercise to ascertain the views of the community and stakeholders prior to anything significant proceeding on such sites. I commend the amendment to the House.

I welcome the amendment, which is very positive. We have obtained information in recent years which was not previously available on the potential of extracted waste. In the past mining was not as refined or as sophisticated as it is now. Certainly, people involved in the industry say there is much potential in the extracted waste that may be lying in mines or on mine sites throughout the country. The measures proposed for remediation are very important. I concur on the benefits for what the Minister termed the circular economy of reusing to gain further benefits from what has been extracted. The amendment is good for the environment and very good from an economic point of view and we certainly will support it.

I thank Deputy James Lawless for his amendment. He raised the issue on Second and Committee Stages. Under existing minerals legislation, State mining leases require the lessee to work minerals fully under the lease terms. It should be said the modern mines at Navan, Lisheen and Galmoy are better equipped to extract the full mineral potential of the mine material than older mine sites. There is some industry interest in reworking mine waste on legacy mine sites. However, this is at an early stage and will be driven by the economic potential.

In 2015 the Geological Survey of Ireland commissioned a short call project, an economic assessment of Irish mining waste, to be undertaken by Aurum Exploration Services. The project aimed to analyse samples from mine waste sites throughout Ireland. Of the nine sites sampled, Avoca returned the most positive results. The study recommended further analysis of waste dumps at Avoca. Unfortunately, the majority of historical mine sites sampled were reported to have no economic value. The provisions of the Bill facilitate the potential reuse of abandoned mines and associated waste. The definition of minerals in section 2 of the Bill includes all substances, including scheduled minerals that occur naturally in or on land or that occur in extracted waste.

Deputy James Lawless' amendment identifies an omission in the Bill, as published, on the important role of the Minister in promoting sectoral research and innovation. While the Department has commissioned research such as the Aurum report and facilitated research activities such as iCRAG on an administrative basis, it is important that this role be formalised in the Bill.

The amendment also identifies two new focuses for research - research into recycling, reusing or reclaiming extracted waste where this is environmentally sound, thus supporting the concept of the circular economy, and research that may create opportunities where the reuse of mine waste could contribute to the rehabilitation of a legacy mine site.

I note the Deputy's concerns that communities in areas where there is legacy mining may wish to express their views on potential research in this area and he has provided a mechanism for same. I commend him for his work on the issue and propose to accept the amendment.

I thank the Minister of State and Deputy Brian Stanley for their support of the amendment. I am very happy to see it accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 112, to delete lines 19 to 27 and substitute the following:

"Amendment of Continental Shelf Act 1968

244. The Continental Shelf Act 1968 is amended—

(a) by substituting the following for section 4:

"Application of Minerals Development Acts 1979 and 2017 and Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Acts 1960 and 1995

4. (1) The Minerals Development Acts 1979 and 2017 apply to any minerals (within the meaning of those Acts) within a designated area.

(2) The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Acts 1960 and 1995 apply in relation to petroleum (within the meaning of those Acts) within a designated area.",

(b) in section 5 (inserted by section 5 of the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995)—

(i) in subsection (1), by deleting the definition of "relevant Minister",

(ii) in subsection (2), by deleting "and the Minister for the Marine",

(iii) by inserting after subsection (2) the following:

"(2A) The Minister shall consult with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in relation to safety of navigation before granting his consent under this section.",

(iv) in subsection (3), by substituting "The Minister" for "A relevant Minister",

(v) in subsection (5), by substituting "the Minister" for "the Minister for the Marine",

(vi) in subsection (6)—

(I) in paragraph (a), by substituting "the Minister" for "a relevant Minister",

(II) in paragraph (c), by substituting "The Minister" for "A relevant Minister", and

(III) in paragraph (d), by substituting "the Minister" for "the relevant Minister",

(vii) in subsection (7), by substituting—

(I) "the Minister" for "a relevant Minister",

(II) "the Minister" for "that Minister", and

(III) "the Minister" for "the relevant Minister",

(viii) in subsection (9), by substituting—

(I) "the Minister" for "a relevant Minister, being the Minister", and

(II) "the Minister" for "that Minister" in each place that it occurs,

(ix) in subsection (10), by substituting—

(I) "the Minister" for "a relevant Minister, being the Minister for the Marine", and

(II) "the Minister" for "that Minister" in each place that it occurs,

(x) in subsection (11), by substituting "the Minister" for "the relevant Minister",

(xi) in subsection (12), by substituting—

(I) "the Minister" for "a relevant Minister", and

(II) "the Minister" for "that Minister",

and

(xii) in subsection (13), by substituting "the Minister" for "a relevant Minister",

(c) in section 7(1), by substituting "The Minister" for "The Minister for Energy, with the consent of the Minister for the Marine,", and

(d) in section 12(1), by deleting—

(i) "or the Minister for the Marine", and

(ii) "or the Minister for the Marine (as the case may be)".".

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the officials from the Department. I also thank the members of the Oireachtas committee and its Chairman, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, for their work on Committee Stage. I thank Deputies James Lawless and Brian Stanley, in particular, who have sat through all Stages of the Bill. I also thank all those involved on Second and Committee Stages. The Second Stage debate provided a valuable insight into concerns and opportunities associated with the Bill. I acknowledge the work of previous colleagues in the Department. I acknowledge the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten; the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh; the former Minister Pat Rabbitte and others involved in dealing with the Bill which had a gestation period of 11 years.

It did not take the Minister of State long to get it off the ground when he hit the Department. Well done to him.

Question put and agreed to.