Greencastle goldmine: Minister wants public inquiry
The Department of Infrastructure has said there should be a public inquiry into a proposal for a goldmine near Greencastle, County Tyrone.
Chris Hazzard made the statement after local residents said they feared human error or equipment failure could lead to a cyanide spill.
The claim has been rejected by the company.
No planning application has yet been submitted but is expected to be put in early next year.
The chemical is used in part of the processing system but Dalriadian, the company planning the mine said it will be heavily regulated and does not pose a risk to the public or the environment.
Some people living near the proposed facility remain vehemently opposed.
Patrick Anderson, the chief executive of Dalradian, said he would welcome a public inquiry.
"I think it would be a further forum to engage locally and hear more fully what the complaints and the support is for the project so you could have a more informed decision for the minister when it comes to deciding whether to grant planning permission or not," he said.
Dalradian had said it can get millions of ounces of gold from the Sperrins over the 25-year life of the mine, creating hundreds of jobs in construction and operation.
The minister added that his department had been in meetings with Dalradian over the last year as part of "pre-application discussions to scope the extent of information that will be needed should they decide to submit a planning application for the proposal".
"It is already clear that the planning application, if submitted, will be both complex and controversial involving a wide range of views and in depth information to assess the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts, both positive and negative, of the proposed development," Mr Hazzard said.
The announcement has been welcomed by Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer.
"The proposal is only 1,200 metres from the local primary school and GAA ground and there is a real concern in the local area about the lack of public consultation in Greencastle village, which would have made it more accessible for local people.
"Hopefully, this move by the minister will allow people to get answers to their questions and to voice their concerns," he said.
A planning application will be lodged in 2017 if a feasibility study proves the project is economically viable.
The company said it would have between five and 20 tonnes of cyanide on site at any time with at least one delivery a week.
A diluted cyanide solution will be used to separate tiny gold particles from a portion of the crushed ore.
It will be transported and stored in solid briquettes in which form it is inert.
A number of groups have been set up to oppose the plan.
The Save Our Sperrins group said it is worried about potential water and air pollution.
However, Dalradian said the use of cyanide will be heavily regulated.
The company said the 10% of crushed ore that is treated with it will go through a final process to destroy most of the cyanide.
It will then be pumped back underground in the form of a cement paste to backfill the blast holes.
It claims that paste will contain only "trace" amounts of the toxin and that there would be more naturally-occurring cyanide in "a handful of chewed almonds".