The introduction of the Minerals Development Act in 1940, coupled with significant tax measures announced in the 1956 Finance Act, had a catalytic effect on mineral exploration in Ireland by attracting a number of Canadian exploration companies to the country. Encouraged by the State discovery of economic reserves at the lead-zinc deposit in Lower Carboniferous rocks at Abbeytown (in production from 1950-62), a surge of exploration focused in this stratigraphic level. Early confirmation of the existence of significant mineralization came with the discovery of the Ballyvergin copper deposit in 1957, followed by the Tynagh Pb-Zn orebody in 1961. It was the discovery of this latter deposit, in a geological setting which had not previously produced any significant mineralization, that set off a chain of discoveries. In 1962, the Silvermines Zn-Pb orebody was discovered, followed soon after by the world class barite deposit at Ballynoe and the Gortdrum Cu-Ag-Hg deposit. All of these became profitable mines.
Then in late 1970, the Navan deposit was discovered. Initial reserves for the deposit were almost 80Mt grading 10% Zn and 2.5% Pb. Production commenced in 1977. The discovery of the Navan orebody put Ireland firmly on the international map and resulted in unprecedented levels of exploration activity. Although a number of subeconomic Zn-Pb deposits were identified (e.g. Tatestown, Courtbrown, Charlestown) it was not until 1986 that a further significant discovery was made at Galmoy in Co. Kilkenny. This deposit, totalling 6.2Mt at12.43% Zn+Pb sparked a revival in Ireland's base metal industry, resulting in the return to Ireland of a number of multinational companies that had departed some years previously. Further success followed in 1990 with the discovery of the Lisheen deposit (18.9Mt, 12.75% Zn, 2.2% Pb). Additional significant mineralization has subsequently been outlined at both Navan and Galmoy Mines.
The Navan, Galmoy and Lisheen mines are owned, respectively, by Boliden, Lundin Mining, and Anglo American. Together, the three mines account for almost 40% of European zinc production, and 20% of lead production. The mines produce metal concentrates, all of which are exported for smelting.
Current mining in Ireland is not restricted to metal mining, though. There are significant resources of gypsum in Co Monaghan, where Irish Gypsum produces some 500,000tpa from an open pit (Knocknacran) and from an adjacent underground mine (Drummond). In Co Kilkenny, at Bennettsbridge, CRH produces dolomite and dolomitic limestone. In Northern Itreland rock salt is produced at Kilroot, Co Antrim, by the Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Company. Other minerals that are exploited to a lesser degree are fireclay, Connemara marble, silica sand and coal.
Further information on Ireland's mineral deposits is contained in our publication 'The Top 55 Deposits'.
Details of current State Mining facilities can be found at:
Six monthly report by Minister including a list of State Mining and Prospecting Facilities
Permitting Minerals Development
Minerals can be in State ownership or privately owned. Regardless of ownership, minerals development requires a State Mining Facility from the Minister. This can be either a State Mining Lease under the Minerals Development Act 1940 for minerals in State ownership, or a State Mining Licence if the right to work minerals is vested in the Minister under the Minerals Development Act 1979. Minerals in these Acts do not include stone, gravel, sand and clay. A State Mining Permission can be issued for very small tonnages of State-owned minerals for limited periods of time, but this procedure is rarely used. There are at present 13 State Mining Leases and 9 State Mining Licences.
As a matter of policy, the Minister will only accept an application from the holder of a valid Prospecting Licence, State Mining Lease, Licence or Permission over the area in question. An application fee is charged as set out in S.I. No. 259 of 1996 - MINERALS DEVELOPMENT REGULATIONS, 1996. (Application fees for certain state mining facilities).
Whilst the information that will be required to support an application may vary somewhat in individual circumstances, and applicants are advised to consult the Exploration and Mining division, a generic list of what is required can be found in the following documents:
Mining Leases etc. are negotiated on a case by case basis as required by Section 26 of the Minerals Development Act 1940 which also applies to Licences under the Minerals Development Act 1979 (see Section 17 of the 1979 Act). Typical conditions require adherence to best practice, ensuring full extraction of the minerals, prevention of subsidence, and proper rehabilitation of the mineral workings. Royalties are charged, and compensation must be paid if privately-owned minerals are licensed under the 1979 Act.
Examples of royalties and information on the taxation of minerals are included in: Fiscal Framework (2011). (pdf document)
There is public consultation before any Mining Leases or Licences are issued.
Two other main permits are required before a new mineral development can be started. These are:
Planning Permission under the Planning and Developement Acts, and an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Licence for all but small developments of non-metallic minerals. An Environmental Impact Statement must accompany applications for developments involving the extraction of minerals under the Minerals Development Acts. The consent of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is also required to make a valid Planning Application for such minerals.
Current Mining Data
EMD collects annual production data for barite, coal, copper, gypsum, lead, mercury, pyrite, silver, zinc. These provide consistent series for production since 1965 when the Tynagh mine opened. While care has been taken in compiling the figures no responsibility can be accepted for any errors. All metal tonnages are reported as contained metal in concentrates. Minerals are reported as gross weight. To access the data as an Excel spreadsheet, click here. Historical data prior to 1900 is available for coal and copper here.