Calls for State to buy 'contaminated lands' from dairy farmers

The disused Magcobar Quarry outside Silvermines. Pic: Fergal Shanahan.
The disused Magcobar Quarry outside Silvermines. Pic: Fergal Shanahan.
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Calls have been made for the State to purchase land from farmers near former mining sites at Silvermines, in Tipperary.

Since 2007, the Department of Environment in co-operation with Tipperary Co Council, has undertaken a programme of remediation works at a number of former mining sites at Silvermines, Co. Tipperary, with expenditure on the works totalling €11.2m to date.

Currently, plans are underway to develop a pumped storage electricity generation plant at Silvermines, according to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

The proposed development would utilise the flooded open pit at the Magcobar site, which was used to produce barite from 1963 to 1992.

The over €500m worth of an investment is set to provide 10pc of the county's electricity when it is finished.

However, in the Dail this week, local TD Alan Kelly raised the concerns of two families, who are dairy farmers and whose land, he said, is contaminated to the point where their milk is no longer accepted by dairy processors.

"There are legacy issues here that are so deep that it will not be possible to remediate these lands and invest in them unless the State compulsorily purchases them.

He described the idea that these lands could be sold for development as 'absolutely criminal' and said the State needs to own these lands.

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"I am not expecting it to be done tomorrow, but I would ask him (the Minister) to ensure the lands around this very positive development are mapped out and a process and plan is put in place to compulsorily purchase these areas for the benefit of all the people living there, for human health and animal health,” he said.

Sean Kyne Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources at the Department of Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said he understands from his Department that the issue is in discussions, through the Chief State Solicitor's office, with solicitors for the owners of the property.

"That is not to say it is expediting a CPO, but it is in discussions to purchase the land."

Animal deaths

Kyne also highlighted the unknown causes of cattle deaths in the area and said the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the environment section of Tipperary County Council are investigating the issues.

"They are taking water samples, which seem to be satisfactory, and they are looking at all possibilities, including paint or batteries that may have been dumped in the general area, to try to ascertain why exactly there has been animal deaths in the area.

"Clearly, regarding Gortmore, it is the largest section of concern within the Silvermines complex.

"We are trying to expedite a purchase of that through the Chief State Solicitor's office and we will continue with that."

Deputy Kelly said that there have not been animal deaths in the area for ‘some time’ and said that those that were were due to lead poisoning.

"The issue now is that the actual soil is contaminated from the river," he said.

"The lead levels have gone across into the soil and into the grass that was cut to make silage, which is fed to the animals.

"It will take a period of time for us to figure our exactly what is going on here.

"This will not end even if they find out what the issues are relating to those two farmers and their cattle. This will not end there.

"Until this State firmly takes control of this situation there will be ongoing issues here.

"The patience of the people living in the community there is worn out," he said.

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