A NUMBER of Assembly candidates who attended a hustings event in Greencastle on Tuesday night signed a pledge to resist plans to create a goldmine processing plant in the area.
All of the main parties – with the exception of the SDLP and DUP – were represented at the debate which was organised by the Save Our Sperrins campaign group.
The Conservative candidate Roger Lomas was the only Assembly election candidate present at the meeting who did not sign the petition opposing the plans.
The event focused almost exclusively on environmental issues, including the potential impact of goldmining in the region and ways in which the Sperrins can be better promoted as a tourism destination.
It is estimated that the meeting was attended by 150 people.
Earlier this year, Dalradian Gold announced their intention to apply for planning permission for a goldmine processing plant using cyanide. This prompted the start of a campaign among local people in Greencastle and the Sperrins.
Dalradian say that the use of cyanide is an ‘industrial standard’ within gold mining and that it is one of the most highly regulated substances in the world. Ulster Unionist candidate, Ross Hussey, said he questioned whether the Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, had sufficient knowledge about what was planned at Greencastle.
“My main fear is that a decision on whether this processing plant gets the go ahead or not will be taken out of the Environment Minister’s remit and be given to the Office of First and Deputy First Minister as it will be seen as a money-making decision,” he said.
“I can assure the people that, if I am elected as an MLA, I will continue to keep an close eye on this decision. As a Unionist, I am not sure there are many votes for me in Greencastle, but the key issue for me is the potential impact of this on the local community.”
Sinn Féin candidate, Declan McAleer, said plans for the plant had “sent shockwaves” through the area.
“I can understand the fears of this community. The processes being proposed for here are more suitable for a cold climate such as Alaska rather than the wet conditions which dominate here in Tyrone.”
Independent candidate, Dr Josephine Deehan, said it was all very well to say that gold was a mineral resource to be used to create employment, but the community of Greencastle must be put first.
“We need to strengthen the need for environmental protection in relation to mineral extraction. It is important that we want to enjoy the beauty of the Sperrins in this generation and for many generations to come.”
Independent candidate, Sorcha McAnespy, said the land around Greencastle was not industrial and should not be developed in this way. She added that the time was right for a proper tourism strategy rather than the arrival of multi-national mining companies.
Conservative candidate, Roger Lomas, said he could see both the economic benefits of 400 jobs in goldmining, but also the concerns of people worried about their future health.
Stephen Donnelly of Alliance said that, while people were in favour of economic development, it was also important that this would be ‘responsible and ethical.’
He said the problem with the Dalradian proposal was that it was taking place to the backdrop of a lack of public trust and that people did not have faith in planning regulations.
CISTA’S Barry Brown questioned how the planning application was able to proceed when there was such widespread opposition from so many of the main political parties.
Ciaran McClean of the Green party said he had been campaigning against the proposed goldmine for over two years and put forward a total of 45 questions to the Environment Minister.