While the economic benefits of mining are clearly recognised in Ireland, concern about the impact of mining on the natural environment has increased in recent years. Both Government and the mining industry have recognised this concern, and have acknowledged the importance of their environmental responsibilities by adopting a range of protective measures. Indeed, Mr. John Browne T. D., Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (September,2003) stated that:
"The Government remains firmly committed to strongly encouraging exploration and mining in a manner compatible with sustainable development".
Towards this end the Government has implemented a suite of pragmatic environmental legislation, which aims to secure an expanding future for the mining industry in the context of sustainable development.
The concept of sustainable development has received wide attention since the publication, in 1987, of the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission): 'Our Common Future'. It was defined there, as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". The EC Treaty, which established the European Community, contains provisions which require the integration of environmental protection into Community policies with a view to promoting sustainable development. The extractive industry was the first sector to receive specific attention, leading to the publication in 2000 of a Commission Communication: Promoting Sustainable Development in the EU Non-Energy Extractive Industry, which set out the Commissions views on the industry generally within the EU. In endorsing this, the Council of the EU highlighted the need to ensure a proper balance between the three pillars of sustainable development, including better reconciliation of the needs of the industry and environmental protection;
Under the provisions of the Minerals Development Acts, 1940-1999, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is empowered to issue Prospecting Licences and subsequently, when an economic deposit has been defined, a State Mining Facility. Under different Acts there are separate but complementary procedures and agencies responsible for land use planning control and environmental issues, namely the relevant Local Planning Authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Environment in this context means emissions to air and water, noise including vibration, waste storage and disposal. Planning Permission (from the Local Planning Authority) and an Integrated Pollution Control Licence (from the EPA) must be obtained before the commencement of commercial extraction.