Minerals Development Bill 2015: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh.

I acknowledge the role the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, has played in the preparation of this Bill. It is an extensive Bill and he has remained interested in it and been in contact with me.

Tá acmhainneacht mhaith ag baint le geolaíocht ilghnéitheach na hÉireann ó thaobh fosaithe breise barainneacha mianraí a aimsiú de. Tá córas cuimsitheach rialaitheach i bhfeidhm againn do gach céim ó thaiscéalaíocht go forbairt mianraí, lena n-áirítear pleanáil le haghaidh dúnadh agus feabhsú mianach faoi dheireadh. Tá sé seo fíorthábhachtach agus is cúis mhuiníne san earnáil é. Déanann an reachtaíocht nua seo comhdhlúthú agus nuachóiriú ar an gcód sin in aon reacht amháin. Tá ár ngealltanas an cód rialaitheach a choinneáil cothrom le dáta ar na príomhchúiseanna a mheasann suirbhéanna idirnáisiúnta Éire a bheith ar na tíortha is fearr maidir leis seo go leanúnach.

I am very pleased to be in the Seanad again and to have this opportunity to present the Minerals Development Bill 2015 for the consideration of the House. The Bill will repeal a suite of Acts dating from 1940 and replace them with more up-to-date legislation so as to provide a modern regulatory regime for exploration and development of minerals, whether in State or private ownership. At 251 sections, it is one of the largest and most comprehensive Bills to come before the Oireachtas.

Before proceeding with a summary of the detailed provisions, I would, first, like to offer some background to the minerals sector and existing legislation. Minerals exploration and development is currently regulated through the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. Exploration for economic deposits of minerals is carried out under prospecting licences, while mining of any such deposit requires a State mining lease, in the case of State minerals, or a State mining licence for privately owned minerals. Both exploration and mining are undertaken by private enterprise, although the Bill does retain a power for the State to undertake prospecting also.

I would like to make two things clear. In the Bill the term “minerals” does not include water, stone, sand, gravel, clay, turf, peat or topsoil. Nor does it include petroleum, which is regulated under separate legislation. There are, therefore, no provisions in the Bill relating to oil or gas exploration and development, or to any technique used in that industry such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is not a technique applied to prospecting or mining for minerals. I know that many Senators and Deputies have previously voiced their opinions and concerns about hydraulic fracturing, but that is a matter for discussion on another occasion. The term "mining" refers to the extraction, or development, of mineral deposits and in the Bill this activity is also referred to as "working".

I will now turn to the context of mining and exploration in Ireland to give some background. Ireland is one of the leading zinc and lead mining countries in the world and continues to attract high levels of exploration interest and investment. An assessment of the contribution of the minerals sector to the economy which was published in 2013 indicates that it is an important sector and a vital contributor to the regional economy in the vicinity of operating mines. The report, by independent economic consultants Indecon Limited, focused on 2012, when there were still three operating zinc and lead mines.

Indecon made the following key findings. In 2012 Ireland was Europe’s largest producer of zinc metal in concentrate and the tenth largest in the world and still holds that position today. In that year Ireland was Europe’s third largest producer of lead metal in concentrate and 12th in the world. The direct output value of mining in Ireland in 2012 amounted to €426 million. During the same period exploration and mining activity supported over 1,300 jobs directly, with another 1,900 supported indirectly. Braitheann breis is 3,000 míle duine go díreach agus go hindíreach ar thaiscéalaíocht. These jobs are provided on a broad regional basis, which is important.

Exploration and mining companies contributed a total of €56 million in taxes to the Exchequer during 2012. The State also benefits from payments made by mining and prospecting licence holders in the form of royalties, licence fees and payments which amounted to €9 million in 2012, and from indirect taxes and revenues. The broad contribution to the economy was estimated to be over €800 million, when the direct and indirect impacts of the wages and salaries of workers and the exploration expenditure of the companies are taken into account.

I will now turn to current legislative provisions.

The minerals sector is significant therefore and in order to continue to attract private investment a single national system for regulating mineral exploration, as well as clarity on the ownership of mineral rights, is essential. The Bill will replace legislation, dating from 1940, with modern streamlined statutory provisions. The minerals industry is currently regulated by the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999 comprising five statutes: the Minerals Development Act 1940; Part III of the Petroleum and other Minerals Development Act 1960; the Minerals Development Act 1979; the Minerals Development Act 1995; and the Minerals Development Act 1999. These Acts included provisions for: regulating minerals prospecting and development; a statutory vesting of the exclusive right to work minerals in the Minister, subject to the payment of compensation; acquisition of other rights necessary for efficient development of minerals, subject to payment of compensation; and payment to the State of rents and royalties from the extraction of minerals.

The main objectives of the Bill are: to provide a modern regulatory regime for exploration and development of State minerals; to provide for regulating, in accordance with the principles of social justice, the exercise of private rights over minerals, and ancillary rights, while reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good; to provide for the continued vesting in the Minister the exclusive right of working, selling or otherwise disposing of private minerals which are not in course of development, subject to payment of fair compensation; to provide for preparation and implementation of rehabilitation plans for abandoned mine sites; and to provide for consequential amendments.

The Short Title of the Bill is, "An Act to make further and better provision for the development of minerals in the State and for that purpose to repeal the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999 (other than certain provisions of the Minerals Development Act 1979) and the Minerals Company Acts 1941 to 1950, to make consequential amendments to other Acts, and to provide for related matters".

The principal changes introduced by the Bill relate to the modernisation of the legislative code applicable to the minerals sector; the procedures for compulsory acquisition of ancillary surface rights; the basis for calculation of rents and royalties; and the basis for payment of compensation in respect of private minerals. The Bill will provide for greater transparency and predetermination of financial terms which will streamline the permitting process and bring other aspects of the regulation of the minerals sector into line with best practice, having due regard to the constitutional protection of property.

The Bill does not directly address environmental matters because these are considered to be more appropriate to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and local authorities. Moreover, the legislation which established the EPA specifically prohibits conditions in mining permits designed to limit or control environmental emissions. Nevertheless, my legal advice is that the Bill must take appropriate account of these matters, in particular to address obligations under the Aarhus Convention which has been ratified by Ireland. The Aarhus Convention concerns access to information on the environment, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice in that context. The implications of the convention for exploration and mining were carefully considered in close consultation with the Attorney General’s office, and the provisions in the Bill in that regard have been drafted accordingly.

The Bill is divided into eight Parts and the following is an overview of each Part. The first Part of the Bill provides standard provisions, namely, the Short Title, commencement arrangements, scope and interpretation. It provides that the Bill will apply to all minerals within the State or within designated areas of the continental shelf and that, for the purposes of the Bill, as in previous legislation, minerals do not include stone, sand, gravel or clay, turf or peat, or petroleum.

Part 2 addresses the administrative practice for prospecting licences from application to surrender, including public notice and consultation prior to issuing of licences and payment of compensation for damage or nuisance arising from prospecting activity. It introduces a new type of licence, known as a retention licence, where a prospecting licence holder has discovered a mineral resource that cannot for the time being be worked due to environmental, access or other difficulties. This Part also provides that the Minister, in assessing the public interest of an application, takes into account the economic benefits to the region as well as the environmental impact of the proposed exploration programme. It provides for making regulations setting out conditions for a prospecting or retention licence. A new requirement is that prior written consent will be required for boreholes, trenching and bulk sampling. Airborne geophysical surveying is a matter for the civil aviation authorities but provision is made here requiring prior notice of such surveys and submission of data.

Part 3 relates to working minerals. The Minerals Development Act 1979 vested in the Minister the exclusive right to work minerals, with the exception of a small number of existing mines in operation at the time. It also provided for the granting of that right to third parties under licence, subject to the payment of compensation to the mineral owners. These arrangements will be continued under the Bill.

It has long been stated policy that an application for a permit to mine will only be accepted from holders of a current valid prospecting licence over the relevant area. That will now have a statutory basis. The main thrust of the changes in this area is to eliminate the difference between State and private minerals from the development perspective, providing greater predetermination and clarity of terms, financial and non-financial. Previously, there were leases to extract State minerals and licences for private minerals. Now there will be a single instrument - a mining licence.

Part 4 deals with ancillary rights. To extract minerals safely and efficiently it is necessary to carry out a variety of other activities, referred to as ancillary rights. Existing legislation provides that the holder of a State mining lease or licence is entitled to “enter on the land on or under where such minerals lie and use such land in such manner as may be reasonably necessary for the working of such minerals or for any purpose incidental thereto”. By today’s standards, this gives too broad a scope. Current legislation also provides for compulsory acquisition of land and rights over land necessary for efficient working of minerals.

The Bill will clarify rights necessary for working minerals and will divide these into “ancillary underground rights” and “ancillary surface rights” for licences issued henceforth. It will also bring the compulsory acquisition procedures in line with modern best practice. I consider it necessary to have these compulsory powers in place even though they are rarely, if ever, used.

Part 5 deals with rehabilitation. This Part is based on Part 9 of the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 and deals only with “orphan” legacy sites. It is the responsibility of current mine operators to properly close and rehabilitate the sites when activity ceases. Mine operations, through the planning process, are subject to environmental impact assessment which requires detailed closure plans, with financial sureties to fund their implementation, aftercare monitoring and maintenance.

Part 5 provides that, in certain circumstances, the Minister may, having consulted the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, designate a former mine site or adjacent land as a rehabilitation area. The Minister may only designate such a site where a mine has been abandoned or where operations have permanently ceased and it is necessary for the safety of the public or animals or to address major environmental damage.

Once an area is designated as a rehabilitation area, the Minister may develop or adopt a rehabilitation plan and may implement it or authorise a local authority or the Environmental Protection Agency to do so. That does not affect any obligations of former lessees or licensees who had been responsible for the mine site, owners or occupiers of sites or any other person who may have obligations. The Minister may recover through the courts any expenditure incurred by the implementation of the plan.

The Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, acquire private land, either by agreement or compulsorily, for the purpose of implementing a rehabilitation plan. The Minister must undertake a public consultation process before making a rehabilitation acquisition order. If considered appropriate, the Minister may appoint a hearing officer to hold an oral hearing to evaluate objections.

Part 6 relates to the Mining Board. The Mining Board has been in existence since it was established under the Minerals Development Act 1940 and adjudicates on various issues arising under the Acts, including compensation to private mineral owners. This Part provides for the continuation of the board which consists of a chairperson and two ordinary members who are appointed by the Government on the recommendation of the Minister. The chairperson shall be a practising barrister or solicitor of at least ten years' standing. Each ordinary member shall be a property arbitrator under the Property Values (Arbitration and Appeals) Act 1960. The provisions relating to the board are being updated in line with current best practice. New provisions in the area of ethics are provided in line with current legislation regarding other statutory boards.

Part 7 relates to enforcement and miscellaneous issues. This Part mainly contains standard provisions, restated or updated where necessary. Penalties in respect of offences such as unlawful prospecting or working of minerals are brought up to date in line with current practice. Injunctive powers are being provided for continuing offences and in the case where the Minister might be prevented from undertaking rehabilitation work. Provision is being made for the appointment of inspectors to enforce the Bill. A requirement to notify the Minister of boreholes drilled for reasons other than prospecting or mining is a restatement of existing provisions in the 1940 Act.

The vesting in respect of intellectual property rights in the Minister relating to the processing of data collected under the Minerals Development Acts and this Bill is also being provided for. This Part also deals with the registration of minerals that were exempt from statutory vesting under the 1979 Act and other miscellaneous matters.

Part 8 of the Bill which involves transitional provisions repeals and consequential amendments, provides for various transitional arrangements, including the continuation of any licences granted under previous Acts on the terms under which they were granted until they are renewed under the revised legislation. Applications for prospecting licences or mining leases and licences that are made before enactment of the Bill will be deemed to be for licences under the Bill unless the Minister has already given notice of his intention to grant a licence. Chapter 2 sets out the Acts which will be repealed by the Bill. Chapter 3 lists amendments to other Acts as a consequence of the Bill.

The Schedule contains a list of substances which for certainty are included within the definition of "minerals". This list is not exhaustive, as the definition of "minerals" contained in section 2 describes the term as meaning "all substances, including scheduled minerals". It may, therefore, allow other substances to be defined as "minerals". A similar Schedule to the 1940 Act has been reviewed with some additions and deletions. For example, chalk, flint and chert have been removed because experience has shown that their inclusion was not helpful. Mineral oils and natural gas have been removed because the 1960 Act provided for the separate regulation of oil and gas exploration and production. Other substances have been added, including industrial minerals that were not important in 1940 but have since gained significance such as andalusite, garnet and sepiolite. The Schedule also includes definitions of "dolomitic limestone" and "silica sand".

Government approval for the publication and introduction of this Bill was given subject to any technical or drafting amendments that may be agreed between the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Attorney General. My Department has been liaising with the Office of the Attorney General in the interim. I propose to introduce a number of such amendments on Committee Stage. In particular, amendments will be proposed to give effect to certain obligations under the Minamata Convention on mercury which was signed by Ireland in 2013 and will prohibit primary mining of mercury. Other amendments will take account of legal advices in relation to the Aarhus Convention and will refine provisions that are already included in the Bill.

I look forward to early consideration of the Bill on Committee Stage in the Seanad. I ask Senators to table any proposed amendments as quickly as possible to allow time for their full and fair consideration. I will consider all amendments tabled. I look forward to an informed, positive and constructive debate on the Bill in this House and a fair wind for its passage through the Dáil. The Bill is important to improve and consolidate the legal framework underpinning the minerals sector which has been of great economic and social benefit in the past, as it will continue to be in the future. I am happy to commend it to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House and thank him for giving a very comprehensive outline of the legislation before us. While we will be supporting the Bill, we intend to propose some amendments to be of assistance. The minerals sector is an important employer that contributes €810 million to the economy, generates €56 million in taxes and employs over 3,000 people. The heads of the Bill were agreed way back in 2006. When five Acts dating from the 1940s to the 1990s are being consolidated, obviously it takes some time to ensure all the relevant sections are covered and all the necessary new provisions are put in place.

We were here previously talking about safety regulations and the requirement for reporting in the oil and gas industry. We had the same debate. I know that a section of this Bill relates to the cleaning up and rehabilitation of sites and the question of whether that responsibility lies with the Environmental Protection Agency or with the local authorities. I suppose it goes back to the same points I was making about the oil and gas industry. We are going to be giving out licences and considering whether bonds are put in place. We will have to reflect on the adequacy of any bonds that are put in place. Companies that establish themselves to extract minerals from mines tend to disappear such that they are not around for the clean-up. Certainly, the taxpayer should never be footing the bill. We will be dealing with that on Committee Stage when we consider who should pay the costs of rehabilitation and assess whether the language and the requirements in the legislation are sufficiently strong to ensure the taxpayer does not have to pay to meet these costs.

I note that some changes are being made regarding the ability to engage in a form of compulsory purchase - I know that it is not compulsory purchase per se - for ancillary lands. On Committee Stage we will tease out the question of whether this ability is expanding. Obviously, we are happy that fracking is not coming into it. We need to learn lessons here from the current issues in the United States where fracking is no longer viable because of the current price of oil. It seems that the taxpayer generally ends up with the bill for cleaning these sites. This applies to hydraulic fracturing as much as it does to the extraction of minerals, gas and oil. Our job is to put in place legislation that is strong enough to ensure future Governments and Ministers for Finance do not have to try to find the funds to meet the clean-up costs of local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In general, we support this important legislation and look forward to considering it on Committee Stage, when we will table amendments and tease out its minutiae. This Bill is important because it consolidates 50 years of previous legislative jurisdiction in five other enactments. We need to make sure we extract this country's minerals which are a national asset in a way that benefits all of society, protects everybody and is done in the common good. We need to ensure future generations are not affected by the consequences of mining and that any clean-up necessary is undertaken at the expense of the company that benefi\ted and made the profit and not at the cost of the taxpayer.

I welcome the Minister of State. I think we will all have found when taking a look at the Minerals Development Bill 2015 that it is a very large and complex Bill. As Senator Mark Daly said, its primary purpose is to bring together the large volume of legislation that comprises the Minerals Development Acts, as adopted between 1940 and 1999. The Bill provides for the continued vesting in the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources of the exclusive right to work minerals, subject to certain exceptions. The Bill also provides for the setting and calculation of fees and royalties. It also provides for a comprehensive suite of powers for dealing with abandoned mines and mine sites. It seeks to implement international environmental legal obligations set out in the Aarhus Convention. The Bill provides for public participation in and access to our justice system to allow citizens to make an input into activities of the mining industry that may have a significant on the environment and may not be the subject of planning permission.

While the Bill deals with the legislative side of the mining industry, it is also important to outline some positive aspects of the industry. When one looks to the future of mining, one must consider that Ireland's 70,000 sq. km incorporate a wide range of diverse geology and mineral deposits. Since 1960, some 15 zinc and lead deposits have been discovered, with six becoming producing mines. I have no doubt that as mining technologies develop, many previously economically unviable methods may be revisited in the future. As such, it is important that our legislation is up to date and can reflect these changes. As we know, this Bill is designed to replace legislation that was introduced over more than 40 years from the 1940s to the 1990s. As the Minister of State has said, much of this legislation is now outdated and in need of modernisation. As I have said, there is also a need to implement international environmental legal obligations.

Some people are often surprised to discover the economic value of the mining sector in terms of output.

Judged by sales turnover, mining activity was worth €426 million in Ireland in 2012 - the most recent figures I could find - while the activity of exploration and mining supported 1,373 full-time jobs in that year. The level of employment supported economy-wide is estimated at approximately 3,300 jobs. It is not, therefore, an insignificant sector and it is important that the legislation be brought into line with international standards, while also being modernised to reflect its importance.

One change worth nothing in the Bill is that it proposes that claims for compensation be extinguished if they are not made within a prescribed timeframe. The minerals development Acts do not explicitly provide for the extinguishment of claims for compensation, although they do require claims to be made within specified timeframes. The changes proposed in the Bill will shift the onus on the Minister in notifying potential claimants of their potential right to compensation to the mineral owner. That is correct.

In terms of rates and royalties, the Minister has the capacity to review them at least every eight years to ensure they reflect market rates. That is an adequate provision to enable substantial fluctuations to be taken into account.

Ireland has international obligations under the Aarhus Convention to guarantee a person's right to public participation and access to justice and information rights contained in the convention. Sections 203 to 205, inclusive, set out the public notice requirements in respect of mineral activities. Section 205 requires the Minister to take due account of the outcome of public participation in the decision and include in it any relevant information on the procedure to seek to have the decision judicially reviewed, while also making available a copy of the decision with the reasons and considerations on which it was based. This should ensure clarity and transparency on the matter.

All told, this is, effectively, a modernisation of existing legislation, while also seeking to ensure we are up to date in meeting our international environmental obligations. I, therefore, commend the Bill to the House.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is breá an rud a bheith ag plé rud éigin eile seachas cúrsaí aeirsheirbhíse go hÁrainn agus mar sin de. Is Bille tábhachtach é seo agus ardóidh mé roinnt ceisteanna sonracha, b'fhéidir, nuair a bhéas mé ag cur críche leis an bpointe cainte atá mé le déanamh.

Despite this being a relatively small island, we have a diverse geology that contains large and varying levels of minerals beneath the soil. These deposits are spread throughout the country, with mineral deposits to be found across the 32 counties. While Ireland is a small country, we are not a small player when it comes to the development of certain minerals. To put the matter in perspective, since 1960, 15 significant zinc lead deposits have been discovered, with six becoming producing mines. Ireland has been ranked first in the world in the zinc discovered per square kilometre and second in the case of lead. Ireland's two underground zinc-lead mines accounted for approximately 30% of European zinc mine output and 10.7% of European lead mine output. Tara Mines in Navan, County Meath, is the most notable example of such a mine. Therefore, we welcome the publication of this legislation as it relates to a significant Irish industry.

It is important that our legislation and the regulations surrounding mining be brought up to modern standards. However, it must be noted that this legislation was a long time coming and people involved in the industry are eager to see the current legislation updated and enacted.

Mining plays a significant role in the economy, as has been stated. In 2012 mining output generated €426.1 million for the economy, while €56.6 million was generated for the Exchequer in tax and 1,373 people were employed on a full-time basis. Therefore, it is important to consider how the funds generated from mining activity are harnessed by the State to best advantage. It is also important that State-owned minerals not be discarded as they can be viewed as a source of income for the State. With this in mind, I am concerned about section 82 of the Bill which allows the Minister to sell State-owned minerals instead of granting a mining licence. We have experienced far too much privatisation in Ireland and do not want to suffer a repeat of what we have witnessed in other sectors. Neither do we want to experience a repeat of what has happened in the case of offshore oil and gas whereby we have transferred almost all profits to private companies.

The safety of mines is also a source of concern. The State has a responsibility to ensure all mines operate to the highest safety standards. For example, the land and minerals rights at the Avoca mine in County Wicklow are owned by the State. As this is an historic mine, the Government must ensure old shafts, site heaps, etc. are kept safe for the public. It is important, where a private company or owner is involved in mining, that they also be compelled to ensure the site is safe and that the Minister have the necessary powers to oversee this. There must be clarification of the scheduling of minerals. For example, the definition of "dolomitic limestone" in section 2 needs to be clarified. The interpretation of dolomitic limestone and limestone is subjective. Inconsistent interpretation has allowed multinational companies to exploit deposits of dolomitic limestone without approval from the State. This has resulted in some companies being able to avoid paying royalties, while smaller producers return their royalties to the State. This is hardly a fair system and the Minister of State must ensure clarity on the issue.

Sinn Féin welcomes this long overdue legislation and is happy to support its passage through the Houses. I note some prospecting for gold is happening in Connemara. This matter was brought to my attention during the summer. A question that has arisen and which comes within the remit of the Minister of State is how prospecting for gold can take place in an SAC. The impact is the destruction of an SAC. The mining is taking place in an area with a radius of 60 km, most of which is included in an SAC. Even if those involved are lucky enough to strike gold in the hills in Connemara, how will they be able to mine it without impacting on the SAC? How can those involved in mining activity overcome this barrier when people building houses or trying to engage in other developments or cut turf, as the Minister of State alluded to, are not allowed to do so? Perhaps the Minister of State might clarify the matter.

I have raised issues with the Department about the quarrying of marble. Some licences date back so far that they have been handed down from landlord to landlord. Some are owned by people who do not live in the State. Certain individuals with rights to quarry marble on other people's land were sitting on these rights and thus not allowing others to develop marble quarries on their own land. I raised this issue a number of times with the then Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd. The Minister should have intervened in that scenario so as not to allow it to happen. Does the legislation address that issue, where somebody with quarrying rights is sitting on a mineral to prevent somebody else from making a go of it? As I said, there are licences which predate the State and which have been handed down from landlord to landlord. What is the State doing to take back these licences into State ownership in order that it will have full control over them?

Táimid chun leasuithe a thabhairt chun cinn maidir le cuid de na ceisteanna seo ar an gcéad Staid eile. Fáiltimid roimh an reachtaíocht ach tá sé tábhachtach díriú ar chuid de na ceisteanna sonracha atáimid ag plé.

I thank the very gracious Senator Aideen Hayden for sharing her time with me because I have to rush off to attend another meeting. It is great to see the Minister of the State in the House.

I welcome the Bill, which is timely. The Minister of State may be involved in the Royal Irish Academy pairing system, as I am, under which the academy pairs legislators with scientists. I have benefited hugely from it. I have been paired with a Dr. Deirdre Lewis, a geologist with SLR Consulting. I have learned a lot in working with her. I have visited Glengowla mines in Oughterard and learned about our mining heritage and there is much to learn. I compliment this family based mining enterprise.

I have two questions for the Minister of State, although I cannot wait for his answers, but I will check them in the Official Report. It is important to know them in my work with the scientist. Will he confirm that the provisions of the Bill recognise the rights of citizens to participate actively in all aspects of environmental decision making and thus allow for consultation on minerals development, as per the provisions of the Aarhus Convention which was ratified by Ireland in 2012?

The second question ties in somewhat with what Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said. This might put his mind at rest. Will the Minister of State confirm that the provisions of the revised Bill are not in contravention of the revised Planning and Development Act and Planning and Development Regulations 2001 with regard to prospecting and drilling for minerals? Submissions under the latter should be exempt from planning permission at the prospecting stage to allow for responsible investigation of the subsurface for minerals. That is why it can go on in Connemara, for example.

I have learned that we have a highly regulated industry in Ireland and that we rank highly internationally in this field. It has been a great learning experience for me. I compliment those involved on coming up with the idea of a regulatory impact assessment. I believe it is something that should be adopted in more disciplines where we are pairing off experts in the field with policymakers and legislators. Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Aire Stáit agus leis an Seanadóir Hayden as ucht a gcuid ama. I wish the Minister of State well and look forward to hearing the reply to my two questions.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh. The Bill before the House is a consolidation and modernisation of Ireland's exploration and mining legislation. It has already been acknowledged that it is the culmination of in and around five years of preparatory work. I am keen to acknowledge the work of the staff of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; the Minister of State; the Minister, Deputy Alex White, and, in particular, the former Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, in bringing about this much needed updating of legislation in this important area.

The main purpose of the Bill has been spelled out by the Minister of State and I am not going to repeat it. He has already emphasised the fact that this legislation does not apply to petroleum or natural gas and does not cover the process known as fracking.

Not many people know that Ireland has a mining heritage spanning over 4,000 years. Since the 1960s Ireland has had the status of a world-ranked producer of zinc, lead and barite. This was news to me and I thank the Library and Research Service for the briefing on the matter. Ireland was Europe's largest producer of zinc and zinc concentrate and the tenth largest producer in the world in 2013. The mineral sector has made an important contribution to the national economy and it is a vital contributor to the regional economy in the vicinity of operating mines. The sector employs 3,306 full-time equivalents. These people are employed almost exclusively outside Dublin, which is an important factor in regional development. I note that in Part 2, the Minister can take into account economic benefits to a region, as well as environmental impacts in examining an application.

Ireland is well located geographically in spite of its small size as a landmass. It is deemed to be an attractive destination for mineral exploration. This is, in part, because Ireland has been rated as a top jurisdiction because of its well-regulated sector according to the Fraser Institute 2014 report cards. Mining also has low import content and this is important when looking at its contribution to the economy. Overall value from the sector amounts to something in the region of €810 million, almost double the direct production value. Output in mining, as measured by sales turnover, amounted to some €426 million in 2012 and exploration and mining companies contributed a total of €56 million in tax and other payments to the Exchequer and local authorities. This is an important factor also.

It is clearly an important sector to the economy and it has the potential to grow and expand. As my colleague, Senator Catherine Noone, said, the sector is governed by a number of tranches of legislation spanning 1940 to 1999. Clearly it is in need of modernisation and updating; the statutory framework needs to be fit for purpose. We have seen how the Government has taken a number of areas and produced good quality consolidating legislation.

The Bill has over 250 sections and it is probably one of the largest tranches of legislation that we are going to consider this year. Its purpose is to make better provision for prospecting and development and the management and control of the mining resources in the State. It is important that we have a legislative framework that is fit for purpose. We must also consider that, apart from the comprehensive legislative framework to cover exploration and mining development, we must regulate for mine closure and rehabilitation. Historically, it was the norm to simply close sites with little or no work carried out to rehabilitate the site or return it to full use. Abandoned sites have posed safety risks to humans and animals. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Geological Survey of Ireland identified 27 abandoned sites in 2009 and remediation work has been carried out on a number of these sites under the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. The powers under the 2006 Act, however, were only of a temporary nature and the legislation before the House contains the powers in respect of abandoned sites. It represents an important environmental provision. As the Minister of State has noted, under Part 9 current mining operators have full responsibility for their operations and the Minister has powers to go to the courts to seek compensatory payments where the State is obliged to carry out rehabilitation work.

The Government has shown its commitment to taking all the necessary steps to increase Ireland's international attractiveness overall. The Bill is a significant further step in that outward-looking policy. The Government has shown its commitment to this sector in a number of ways, including by funding the Geological Survey of Ireland geophysical and geochemical survey of the country under the Tellus programme. The Tellus programme is a ground and airborne mapping programme run by the Geological Survey of Ireland and has collected a significant amount of geo-scientific data that is informing the assessment of Ireland's natural resources. Tellus has completed mapping of 25% of the island using state-of-the-art geochemical and geophysical surveying techniques and the programme began its most recent phase this summer in the midlands and the east.

I welcome this legislation. It is worth noting the Government's continued support for the minerals industry but also its determination not to allow miscellaneous legislation that has grown over significant periods to linger on the Statute Book when consolidating legislation is needed for a number of areas where regulation is critical.

Níl aon Seanadóir eile anseo le labhairt. Tá cúpla nóiméad anois ag an Aire Stáit chun críche a chur leis seo.

I am keen to draw on some of the contributions made. I thank Senator Mark Daly for his support for the Bill. We had an extended conversation around safety, the nature of previous legislation and what happens after. He referred to the taxpayer bearing responsibility for the aftermath. We could use the example of Avoca mines. It will possibly take in the range of €50 million to put together a proper plan to deal with all the issues in Avoca. That is a great deal of money, which is why Avoca is an example of where the Department is trying to deal with an issue after the event. It is happening on the ground and great work is going on at local and community level. There is potential in the area and great ideas are coming from the community around potential industrial heritage tourism projects. The major issue is safety and that is where the Department is focused.

That is an extreme example. There are existing ring-fenced closure funds for the likes of Galmoy and Lisheen mines. There is ring-fenced money for those sites going through the process of closure. Lisheen mine will be closing soon. The adequacy of bonds is an example of one of the issues we can tease out and on which we continue the conversation.

One Senator referenced the language of legislation and made reference to the CPO. This is in the legislation, but it will probably never happen. Reference was made to the taxpayer ending up with the bill. To familiarise myself with mining activity, something with which I was not familiar prior to getting this post, I have been to Avoca and Navan. I have been down the Boliden mine in Navan. It is something else to drive into the mine and see what is going on there.

It was very interesting to hear the first-hand account of people from the area who have spent decades mining in Navan and their very sharp focus on health and safety and doing the job as professionally as possible within the various constraints and challenges regarding environmental and community considerations.

Senator Catherine Noone mentioned legacy mine sites. I do not want to revisit that matter. She referred to the economic output of €426 million, consideration of the Aarhus Convention and the outcome of public participation. Public participation is critical at an early stage. We have it in the aftermath in County Wicklow, which is positive, but this must happen before, during and after.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to dolomitic limestone, an isue which is being re-examined. He also has concerns about privatisation. I assure him the State can take privately-owned minerals. The Senator also posed questions about prospecting in sensitive SACs in Connemara. As he knows, if the proper processes such as, for example, an environmental impact study are undergone in respect of an SAC in Connemara, houses can still be built there. The fear on the part of the people in such areas is the cost of going through the process. Mineral mining can happen in SAC areas. Having a prospecting licence does not give someone the green light to mine because there are local authority and environmental impact considerations that go with it. Wearing my other hat, I am aware that there is a big debate regarding Inland Fisheries Ireland which will require legislation to establish who owns the rivers. We really need to get to the bottom of all of these considerations regarding ownership going back not decades but several hundred years.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames acknowledged the work of the Royal Irish Academy's pairing system. I launched the scheme several months ago. It is a good scheme because we are all, whether Deputies, Senators or councillors, practising politicians and there is constant tension between science and community. There is a black and white scientific approach which can sometimes upset communities but we need to bridge the gap. The best way to do so is through schemes such as the pairing system and I wish the Senator well with it. She asked whether the legislation recognised the rights of the citizen. Of course, it does. It brings the community in at an early stage. With regard to exemptions from the Planning Acts, there is obviously a role for the planning authority also.

Senator Aideen Hayden referenced the fact that the legislation has been in preparation for five years and she referred to the former Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte. I would like refer to Frank Sheridan who retired this summer. He was a very dedicated official who was very much involved bringing the legislation to this point. I also acknowledge the other officials and former officials who have brought Bill to where it is at today.

Senator Aideen Hayden also spoke about abandoned sites and I mentioned Lisheen and Galmoy. There has been much community engagement and positive work in Avoca and the local authority is also involved. I have visited the site with Deputy Andrew Doyle. Acute safety issues arise there and it is on these that the Department is focusing. Senator Hayden acknowledged the Tellus programme. What she said is correct because that programme has been phenomenally beneficial, not only to the Department but also to local authorities in the context of examining water tables and other environmental considerations. The data being collected through geochemical and airborne surveying are critical and will help us as we deal further with the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

On Tuesday next, 29 September 2015.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 29 September 2015.
Sitting suspended at 1.55 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.