Leitrim should not become a “sacrifice zone” that is constantly under threat from extractive industries such as fracking and mining, campaigners told a weekend gathering in the county.
Billed as “Leitrim Under Attack”, the two-day event saw local environmental activists host “water protectors” involved in the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline in the United States.
Since June 2017, the pipeline has been carrying about 570,000 barrels of crude oil from northwest North Dakota to Illinois every day. It runs within a mile of the Native American Standing Rock reservation.
“We are here in solidarity and support of the folks in Leitrim who want to keep gold mining out of their county,” said Chas Jewett, a Lakota activist who was involved in the Standing Rock protest. “There are other ways for us to be living. We should be thinking about the seventh generation, seven generations from now and about their access to water rather than our access to gold.”
Jamie Murphy, chairman of the anti-fracking group Love Leitrim, said the county seemed to have become “a magnet” for extractive industries.
“Whether in terms of fracking, non-native forestry plantations or more recently the mining industry, there is a sense that Leitrim has been under siege,” he said.
“We constantly seem to be having to react to different threats coming over the horizon and we feel our energy as a community could be better utilised with positive initiatives”, he said. Mr Murphy said although fracking had been banned in the Republic, “there is no ban in Northern Ireland. We have to remain vigilant because fracking won’t recognise borders or lines drawn on maps”.
Leitrim farmer and science teacher James Gilmartin – chairman of Treasure Leitrim, a group set up to oppose the granting of prospecting licences for gold and silver in the region – said extractive industries were posing a threat to communities around the world.
“It is the same pattern whether you are a Native American or a native of Leitrim,” he said. While they had been told that prospecting didn’t necessarily lead to mining, he warned: “Inevitably it will lead to mining somewhere. Why do a driving test if you’re not going to buy a car and take to the road?”
Last year the Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan, issued prospecting licences to mining company Flintridge Resources for 47 townlands in north Leitrim. At the time a spokesman for the Minister said a prospecting licence did not confer any right to mine and that over the years the department had issued many thousands of prospecting licences “of which only a small number have ultimately led to mining operations”.
Despite the warnings about the county being under attack, there was a festival atmosphere over the two days, with music sessions, family events and a “bug hunt” at Manorhamilton castle.
On Sunday a native oak tree was planted at the Organic Centre in Rossinver by environmental scientist and biodiversity lecturer Leif Barry, with a little help from the Lakota water protectors. They gave a demonstration of “smudging”, a ceremony involving the burning of sacred herbs to promote positive energy while local musicians treated them to some traditional Irish tune and dances.
Mr Jewett pointed out although the Dakota Access pipeline had gone ahead, there had been other significant victories – for example, against the Keystone XL pipeline.