By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The fifth-largest zinc and lead mine in the world has been officially opened in County Tipperary.
The Lisheen Mine, near Thurles, is expected to be operational for at least 14 years, during which about 4.83 million tons of concentrates will be extracted.
Discovered in 1990, it is a joint venture between two companies, Ireland’s Invernia West and South Africa’s Anglo American.
It has been developed at a cost of $280 million and at full production will employ more than 300 workers — about 80 percent of them recruited locally.
During the lifetime of the mine it will generate average annual export earnings of about £100 million and will contribute about £35 million a year to the Irish economy.
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The combined output from two other zinc-lead mines, at Tara and Galmoy, means the country is the eighth-largest producer of zinc concentrates in the world. When Lisheen reaches full production, Ireland, it is expected, will be in sixth place.
At last week’s opening, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern emphasized the Government’s support for the mining industry. "We are hopeful of further significant discoveries," he said.
The mine is on the so-called Rathdowney Trend, which stretches 40 kilometers between the towns of Abbeyleix to the northeast and Thurles to the southwest.
Ivernia chairman Clayton Love said the company is encouraged by recent drilling results on its Rathdowney North licenses, near Ballacolla, where it has found significant mineralization. "These give great hope for further economic discoveries," he said.
Anglo American is listed on the London Stock Exchange last year following a merger with Minorco. It has interests in gold, platinum, diamonds, coals, base and ferrous metals and its operation span the globe, from North and South America to Africa, Europe and Australia.
Ivernia, which is traded in Dublin and London and has a Canadian listing pending, has interests in various base metals projects in Australia and the U.S.
A report to the Oireachtas from the Department of Marine and Natural Resources for the six months to last December said there were 463 current prospecting licenses and another 43 had been issued in the period.
"In spite of a worldwide downturn in investment in minerals exploration, Ireland has not only maintained the level of expenditure by explorationists but increased it to in excess of £10 million punts in 1999," the report said.
There is also an opencast gypsum mine at Knocknacran, Co. Monaghan, which provides the raw material for plaster and board manufacture at nearby Kingscourt and supplies all cement manufacturers on the island.
Total income to the state from leases, permissions and licenses for mining and exploration during the six months was £624,000.