Department extends public response period for gold company licence after incorrect advert placed in newspaper

Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh MLA Megan Fearon said the awarding of a licence without consent from residents is "not how these processes should be conducted". Picture by Mal McCann

THE Department for the Economy has said it will extend the period for public responses regarding a licence application for a company looking for gold in Co Armagh, after admitting an incorrect advertisement of the plans was placed in a local newspaper.

Conroy Gold, which is based in Dublin, lodged an application for the renewal of its prospecting licence with the department, which allows it to search for gold across Co Armagh.

Last year the company, which has been drilling in Clontibret, Co Monaghan, said it had discovered five new gold zones in the south-west of Clay Lake near Keady.

The consultation period for the Co Armagh licence opened to public responses on June 19 and closed on Friday.

A number of residents in south Armagh have said they were unable to access maps of the areas covered in the offices of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, and raised concerns that the matter was not discussed by elected representatives at council level.

One resident, who did not wish to be named, told The Irish News: "I think it is especially important, in light of the lack of stable local government at Stormont and also the uncertainty around Brexit, that we run the risk of licenses such as these being rushed through with little or no opportunity to challenge or debate the pros and cons."

Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh MLA Megan Fearon said that awarding a licence "without any meaningful support or consent" from residents is "not how these processes should be conducted".

She said: "There was virtually no engagement by the department with local residents to determine their views on such a major project in their area. Political representatives were not informed.

"Many residents have expressed fears that mining activity in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty will result in significant environmental damage, which in turn threatens to undermine the local tourism economy, with almost half a million visitors coming to the Ring of Gullion last year."

Ms Fearon added: "While the consultation related only to a prospecting licence, any potential mining project must be subject to the full support of the local community and their political representatives."

A spokesman for Conroy Gold said that the application was for a "routine renewal of a licence" which has been in place for almost two decades and said the company had "followed all the requirements to the letter".

A spokesman for the Department for the Economy said: "DfE officials checked with the council and received assurance that the documentation had been received and was indeed available to view at the council office.

"Advertisements were placed in the Belfast Gazette and Newry Reporter. However an incorrect advertisement covering areas in the North Armagh area was also placed in the Crossmaglen Examiner by error."

The spokesman added: "The department, in light of the issues raised by residents in the South Armagh area, is content to extend the notification period and accept responses up to September 15."

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