Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. O'Malley: asked the Minister for Energy if he is aware of the serious reduction in the level of mineral exploration here in the last 12 months; the steps he proposes to take to restore the rate of exploration to its level of some years ago.
Mr. Spring: I am aware of the decline in minerals exploration activity in this and many other countries. The main reason for this is the general economic recession, which has led to cut-backs in exploration throughout the world, especially in respect of base metals the prices of which were very seriously depressed.
With the recent improvement in the world economy and in metal prices in particular, it is to be hoped that the trend will soon be reversed. A number of administrative measures have already been taken to encourage the industry and discussions are continuing on further possibilities of interest to the exploration companies.
Mr. O'Malley: Is the Minister aware that the decline in mineral exploration in this country far exceeds the decline in other countries and that many of the companies who are pulling out of this country are going to other countries where they find the climate more invigorating and that in fact base metal prices for zinc, which is the main base metal in this country, have never been higher than they have been in recent times? In those circumstances does he seriously mean what he said in his reply? Will he not take steps to effectively encourage the same level of exploration as we had here four to five years ago?
Mr. Spring: I am aware of the decrease world-wide in relation to mineral exploration. As I told the Deputy I am also aware of the fact that there has been a substantial recovery in base metal prices, of which obviously zinc is one of the important factors. Latterly steps have been taken to encourage further exploration activity. We did that in September 1983 when we introduced an open file system in relation to mineral exploration which we certainly see as an effective way of bringing about further exploration and providing the data which was previously considered to be confidential when licences were surrendered. This step will certainly help. We are having ongoing discussions with interested parties with a view to encouraging mineral exploration.
Mr. O'Malley: Is the Minister aware that there is now only one major company left exploring for minerals in this country? What steps does he intend to take to rectify that situation and to get back to the number of companies we had four or five years ago?
Mr. Spring: I would point out to the Deputy that in regard to the number of prospecting licences in 1981 we had 556 and in 1984 there are 425. They do not say a good deal about the amount of work in question because licences can obviously be out but the work may not be carried on. I said discussions are continuing with interested parties and with the IMEG with a view to seeing what can be done to create a climate in which we can encourage more exploration. It is obviously in everybody's interest that we can get back to the high levels we had in former years.
Mr. O'Malley: Is the Minister aware that the main reason for the rapid decline in exploration in this country in the last couple of years is the fact that companies who are exploring are unaware of the broad outlines of the terms of a mining lease which they might get and because of the uncertainty they are not prepared to undertake exploration expenditure in this country while in other countries they are prepared because they know at least  the outline parameters of the mining lease under which they will produce if they are successful?
Mr. Spring: As I said earlier on a representation was made to us in April by IMEG and we have asked for further information from them with a view to looking at that very question. The main thing is to encourage exploration.
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