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Latest twist in the chequered history of Tara Mines

Zinc and lead mine in Co Meath has in the past been mothballed only to reopen at a later date

Tara Mines in Co Meath. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

There was a time this century when Ireland was among the world’s biggest zinc producers. Not any more. The decision by Swedish mining group Boliden to “temporarily suspend operations” within the next four weeks at Tara Mines in Co Meath means there will be no functioning zinc mine in the country for the first time in about 50 years.

Galmoy in Co Kilkenny and Lisheen in Co Tipperary both closed in the past decade, although there is a plan to revive mining at the Galmoy site in the future.

Boliden cited operational challenges, a decline in the price of zinc, high energy prices and general cost inflation as among the reasons for the Tara decision, which impacts about 650 workers and sparked a lively political reaction. But this is not the first time that Tara, one of the biggest zinc mines in Europe, has been closed, only to reopen at a later date.

Earlier this century the mine was mothballed due to its high operating costs and rock-bottom world zinc prices, only to reopen and generate substantial rewards for its Swedish owner in the following years. For example, between 2005 and 2006 the mine generated pretax profits of €200 million.

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In September 2009, The Irish Times reported that Boliden had received a €118 million dividend from Tara Mines in 2008, the same year that the company threatened to close the Irish lead and zinc mine if workers didn’t agree to significant cuts in their pay. In 2007, Boliden had received a dividend payment of €97 million from Tara.

But eaten bread is soon forgotten and this decision is just the latest twist in the chequered history of Tara Mines, which dates back to the mid-1970s under an initial 35-year licence. Boliden has so far not indicated when the mine might reopen. We can only hope that it will.