I thank the Ceann Comhairle for choosing this matter for debate. It is vital importance to people across my own constituency of Meath West and that of my colleague Deputy O'Rourke, Meath East. Tara Mines employs over 580 people directly and hundreds more indirectly and supports thousands of jobs across County Meath. The importance of Tara Mines to the economy of Navan and County Meath cannot be understated. There is considerable concern across the county about the seriousness of the flooding now occurring in the mines. Last week, while a pilot borehole was being drilled for a ventilation shaft, a vast amount of water was encountered that began to flood the underground mine. Thankfully, all workers vacated it safely but the seriousness of the situation only became apparent when the massive amounts of water flowing in and flooding the underground tunnels did not subside. Since then, millions of litres of water continue to flood the new part of Tara Mines, known as Tara Deep, and also the old part of the mine that currently produces lead and zinc. Production has stopped and efforts are being made to try to stop the flooding. I commend the workers who are working tirelessly to try to fix the problem. On Sunday, a surface drill rig arrived and was set up over the borehole and a packer was to be used to try to address the issue from the surface above. I welcome the Tánaiste's visit to the mines on Friday evening and hope he took away the seriousness of the current situation.
Tara Mines is Europe's largest zinc mine and one of the largest in the world. Since mining began in 1977, more than 85 million tonnes of ore have been extracted. Zinc is used to galvanise other metals such as iron to prevent rusting, with galvanised steel used in everything from cars to street lamps and bridges. Lead is used in batteries among many other things. We need these metals for essential everyday items. This highlights the importance of the work of the skilled employees in the mines. As mentioned, the flooding has not stopped since the initial breach last week and the rising waters will threaten underground workshops and pumping stations if they do not reduce. We hope the plan to plug it from above, which was supposed to happen yesterday evening or today, will work successfully. If the packer seals the breach, the next job will be to try to pump out the incredible amount of water now present in the mine. Obviously, the mines have their own pumping system but it has never faced a crisis like this before. Will the Minister of State ensure all assistance the Government or State agencies can offer is made available should Tara Mines management require it? It is vital everything is done to try to recover the mine and protect these jobs.