Firm points to examples of safe use of cyanide
A planning application for a gold mine in the Sperrin Mountains had led to accusations of environmental damage and counter claims of nimbyism. Connla Young heard both sides in a dispute splitting a rural area of Co Tyrone
The battle for the hearts and minds of people living in the Sperrin Mountains is part of the daily grind for local man Peter McKenna.
As community relations manager for Dalradian Gold, he often faces an uphill struggle.
Born and bred near the village Rousky he has worked in the role for the last two years.
In recent weeks tensions in the area have dramatically increased amid claims and counter claims of intimidation.
The firm he works for, Dalradian Gold, wants to develop a mine deep in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains, tunnelling underground from the Rousky area to nearby Greencastle.
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The company's headquarters are in Canada and last year transnational investment management group, Orion Mine Finance, bought a majority share in the firm.
Orion Mine Finance has offices in New York, London and the Cayman Islands, but the job of selling the project is left to locals.
Part of Mr McKenna's role is to lead tours along the labyrinth of tunnels snaking their way through the belly of the Sperrins.
The rich veins of precious metal are masked by sparkling 'fool’s gold' that hide the real treasure buried within the mountain rock.
It is not known how far beyond the end of each tunnel the rich seams of precious metal extend.
Mr McKenna says that the life of the mine could go beyond its expected 25 year lifespan.
"The deposit is still open in all directions," he said.
He said he has no idea how far beyond the proposed life of the mine it could operate for.
"That's a geologists question," he said.
"And again if you take the mining around the world example, the way these projects work is that you apply for what you've found and what you've identified but you'll continue with an exploration project and that can extend the life of a mine."
He believes that some people in the area would welcome such an extension.
Mine 'will create jobs'
Dalradian claims the mine will create 350 direct jobs with the possibility of 650 indirect opportunities.
It also claims $1bn will be spent in the project's supply chain over the mine's lifespan.
It says it has already created 70 placements and internships and provided £474,000 of funding to 215 community groups.
In the past some community based groups have refused to accept cash donations.
Despite the glossy projections the community relations man concedes there is opposition to Dalradian's plans but says the level of resistance is difficult to quantify.
"Well, I think that when you are communicating a message about something new like this it's a process of change and I suppose there are those who embrace change as a challenge and there are those who automatically see it as a threat and they are probably the hardest to convince - because maybe it's a mind-set," he said.
Dalradian, which made an application to planners in 2017, also wants to build a processing plant that will use cyanide to extract gold from ore mined in the area.
Mr McKenna said he understands that the issue of cyanide can be emotive, however, he says he has no concerns about its potential use.
"It's a processing plant and there are a number of processes in the operation of producing gold," he said.
"One of those processes involves the use of cyanide on about 10 percent of material taken from underground."
He urged people to look at other examples of where cyanide is "being used on a daily basis safely" on both sides of the border.
He revealed that the planned Tyrone plant expects to use two tonnes of the toxic gas a day and up to 20 tonnes will be stored at any given time.
In recent months tensions have boiled over several times.
Priest approached at Mass
In one case, reported by the Irish News last month, Fermanagh based priest Fr Joe McVeigh said he felt "threatened" after being approached by a man while giving out Holy Communion during Mass.
He said that the man later claimed to work for Dalradian.
The mining firm has since said the man was not an employee.
Pressed on whether the man was subcontracted to work for the firm, Dalradian referred the Irish News to a Belfast based solicitor who in turn has refused to respond to calls.
When questioned repeatedly about the incident and whether the man was subcontracted to work for Dalradian Mr McKenna also refused to comment.
"You can ask me that question from a number of different angles, as many as you like, I am not going to comment on an individual," he said.
Mr McKenna said also he did not believe Dalradian has to bear some of responsibility for any impact on community relations.
"No, I think we have no wish to be in any way confrontational," he said.
"We want to engage openly and meaningfully with people who want to engage openly and meaningfully with us all the time.
"It would be very important to us to not."
He added that none of the political parties have expressed opposition to the mine to him and said he remains positive about the future of the project.
"I would imagine we have changed all the time - the Sperrins has lived with that change, the Sperrins have remained a beautiful, beautiful place and I have no doubt it can accept this change and remain as beautiful as ever," he said.