Residents opposed to a controversial gold mine in a scenic part of Co Tyrone said the plan was causing stress and sleepless nights, as they protested in London.
The planning application for the Dalradian Gold Mine project at Greencastle, Co Tyrone, was submitted in November 2017, and there have been more than 40,000 representations about the proposal.
Opposition to the mine in the Sperrin Mountains, an area of outstanding natural beauty, is focused on environmental concerns.
Fidelma O’Kane is among a dozen people in London who will hand a letter into 10 Downing Street for British prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday, from the people of the Sperrins.
The letter says: “The Sperrin Mountains are our home – a wild, unspoilt, naturally beautiful place we share with an amazing array of wildlife, flora and fauna, animals, sparkling mountain streams, wells, lakes, rivers, sacred and historic places, battle sites, ancient sli and rich archaeology.
“We have come to London with a clear message: Our people do not want goldmining or Dalradian Gold.
“Thirty-eight thousand objections, a number never before recorded in Northern Ireland, have been received by the Department for Infrastructure to Dalradian Gold’s planning application for a mammoth gold mine and processing plant.”
Ms O’Kane, a retired lecturer in her 60s who lives in the area, said the long-running issue has caused people a lot of worry and stress.
She told the PA news agency: “It’s affected people’s mental health, a lot of people are having sleepless nights because they’re worried about what the future holds for their children.”
Ms O’Kane, a member of Save Our Sperrins, said people are wondering if there will still be a school in the area, and if their children will be able to live there.
“What is the future? The mining company at the consultation told us that they could relocate us.
“I mean, they don’t understand people’s attachment to the land and to the area.
“They don’t seem to understand that. They just think you can, you know, money will solve all your problems, that you can, you know, be paid and just go away.”
Ms O’Kane said the gold mine has also caused friction within families.
“We don’t need gold mining. We don’t need gold. There’s enough gold in the bank vaults in the world to do for all technological needs for 500 years,” she said.
Her husband, Cormac McAleer, said people need to be much more aware of the environmental implications of extractive industries.
The couple’s son, Emmet McAleer, an independent councillor, said the planning application for the Dalradian gold mine project is the most objected to planning application ever, on the island of Ireland.
Mr McAleer told the PA news agency: “We learned, if nothing else during the pandemic, that what we need is fresh air, clean water.
“As the old saying goes, you can’t eat money, at the end of the day.
“So we need to get our priorities straight.”
The group is calling on the Crown Estate to desist from awarding any further options to Dalradian Gold.
The Crown Estate does not grant mineral exploration rights, it grants an option to take a lease of the Mines Royal if a satisfactory planning permission is obtained for gold (or silver) extraction.
Those interested in mineral exploration and extraction must follow all statutory processes and procedures such as Town and Country Planning legislation and may require exploration licences from the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.
Exploration companies also need to enter into private contractual arrangements for access and other relevant factors with any relevant landowners.
Dalradian has said in the past that the mine would transform the economy of the area.
In September this year it was announced that the North's Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon was to formally request that the Planning Appeals Commission hold a public inquiry into the Dalradian Gold Mine project.
A spokesperson for the firm said: “Dalradian has submitted a planning application for an underground gold-copper-silver mine in Northern Ireland.
“Environmentally responsible modern mining already takes place safely across Europe in countries such as Sweden, Ireland and Scotland, and we plan to replicate that success with the continent’s first carbon neutral (net zero) mine.
“The project will be one of the largest inward investments ever in the west of Northern Ireland and will create circa 1,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs which will be a huge boost for our local community.
“We have already received over 3,000 expressions of interest from those seeking a career in mining.”
Dalradian said it welcomes the decision by Ms Mallon to refer the planning application to an independent public inquiry.
“This will be a further opportunity for all aspects of the project to be scrutinised and assessed. If people would like more information, they can speak with our local community relations team,” the spokesperson said.