Canadian mining company exploring for Lithium close to Mount Leinster

Some locals have been voicing their opposition to the prospect of large scale mining by International Lithium Corp

Canadian mining company exploring for Lithium close to Mount Leinster

International Lithium Corp exploring for Lithium | Image: Kieran Cuddihy

A Canadian mining company, International Lithium Corp (ILC), is carrying out exploratory drilling along a 50km line from St Mullins in Carlow to Aughrim in Co Wicklow.

It is searching for Lithium which, if found, would be one of only a handful of Lithium finds anywhere in the world outside of South America.

Newstalk reporter Kieran Cuddihy travelled to the current drill site near Myshall on the Carlow/Wexford border to find out more.

He first met John Harrop who is the VP of Exploration with ILC. He's a geologist by profession and told Kieran a little bit about the work they are carrying out.

John Harrop of International Lithium Corp cleaning some granite extracts at their office in Enniscorthy

So far, they have "explored along a 50km trend" looking at the soils and the rocks. They've carried out "geophysics" and put all their findings together with the history of previous work carried out by Irish Base Metals over 30 years ago.

Ireland has very little exposed bedrock so they say the need to do small exploration drills to find out what is in the rock.

Lithium is becoming a very important commodity as it is used in glass, ceramics, medicine, and rubber, and rechargeable batteries. This means that interest in Lithium deposits are peaking.

The biggest producers are currently Australia, China and Chile with some mines in South America as big as cities.

Kieran spoke to Eileen Doyle, Chief Geologist with the Exploration Mining Division in the new Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources.

She explained that the presence of lithium in Ireland has been known about since the 1970s, however it's only now that commercial mining companies are coming back here to look for it again.

She says the commodity is "important for the green economy".

If Lithium is discovered only some of the basic processing would happen in Ireland. It's contained in the granite bedrock, so it would be separated out here and then shipped off to a processing plant somewhere else in the world.

Kieran also discovered that unlike zinc or tin, which has been mined at Lisheen, Galmoy and Tara for many years, the Lithium won't be sold on the open market. ILC already have done a deal with a Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium to take all the lithium from Ireland and turn it into a range of products, such as batteries or drugs.

ILC will need to deal with several departments before it can begin full scale mining - the local authority for planning, the EPA for environmental impact studies, and the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources to obtain a licence.

If mining does take place it would be through open pit mining. John Harrop explained that only the largest lithium deposits are mined underground:

The mines would look similar to quarries that we pass everyday and don't see.

However, Kieran highlighted that the area in question is very scenic - Barrow Valley, Blackstairs, into the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains - so finding a balance would be the "focal point" of any planning process should it come to that.

He was keen to see how the locals felt about the prospect of large-scale mining so he spoke to local councillors in the area. A few explained that the idea of mining in the region made them very nervous, even if it did mean some local economic growth.

Mary White, former Green Party TD and Minister of State, explained that ILC won't get a "warm reception" if they came to prospect at the Blackstairs mountains.

The community is very anti-mines and previously fought against a company wanting to mine for Andalucite in the area, so they are ready to mobilise the same opposition if the need arises.

"Mining has such a dirty history and mining has left such a dirty legacy in Ireland that we're not prepared to take the mining company's word that things will be done differently".