I propose to take Questions Nos. 1480 to 1483, inclusive, together.
It is the policy of my Department not to issue Prospecting Licences (PL) within the boundaries of National Parks as published by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). My Department has redrawn the boundaries of existing Prospecting Licences so that they do not overlap with National Parks’ boundaries. As the boundaries of National Parks may change from time to time, my Department maintains regular contact with the NPWS to ensure that it is aware of up to date information on any boundary changes.
There are exceptional circumstances where it may be the case that NPWS may agree to the issue of a Prospecting Licence over an area which contains part of a National Park if it enhances their knowledge and be in the interest of the National Park.
In relation to Croagh Patrick, I understand that in May 1990 the then Minister for Energy made a decision to exclude this area from Prospecting Licensing because of the special cultural and religious significance of the area.
For any proposed prospecting works within or in close proximity to Natura 2000 sites (Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs)), screening of any potential impact on such sites is undertaken by my Department in compliance with the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 (SI 477 of 2011) and my Department consults with the NPWS in considering whether such works should be approved.
With regard to mining, there is a requirement for a number of statutory permissions to be obtained before any proposed mining activity receives permission to commence. These include Planning Permission from the Local Authority and an Integrated Pollution Control Licence (IPC) from the Environmental Protection Agency. As part of this process, the applicant must prepare a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to support their application to the Local Authority for Planning Permission.
These permitting processes take into account natural heritage sensitivities of Natura 2000 sites in the EIS as well as providing for statutory consultation with a wide range of bodies including this Department. It would be a matter for the Local Authority to take into account the preservation of areas of outstanding scenic amenity as part of the EIS process and this is not a matter for my Department.
The applicant must also apply to my Department for a State Mining Facility (i.e. a mining lease/ licence), the consideration of which also requires public consultation. A State Mining Facility would not be granted until both Planning Permission and an IPC Licence have been obtained.