Pictured: The group stop for a break on their walk. For more photos check the event page.
Ann Kristin Sivertsen, from the Belfast group talks about a walk in the Sperrins on Sunday when the greater Comhlamh community, and others interested combined the enjoyment of natural beauty with learning about the mining activity in the area.
The weather gods were on our side, as the hills were flooded in sunshine, creating a lovely setting for our day. About 20 people came along, arriving from various areas of the island; Derry, Donegal and Belfast, some locals from Tyrone and others as far away as Dublin.
The day started in Plumbridge where we all met and had our first section of the trip; information about the area, the mining industry both locally and internationally, and the influence of politicians.
Mark from Comhlamh started by introducing Comhlamh as an organisation by briefly talking about its history and past and current activities/focus areas.
Sheila Curran was the first speaker. She has been working with human rights and social justice issues in Peru for about 15 years. She talked about the impact of international companies’ activities on rural communities in the northern regions of Peru and told stories of David versus Goliath fights. The local communities are usually, if not always, ignored in decisions about their lands, both by the Peruvian government and the international corporations.
Sheila also emphasised the very important aspect of the local communities losing out because the people do not met the “standards”, standards established by the western world for the promotion of the western world. Such standards would be having the right education, having technical skills required for the mining, and a general idea that knowledge gained outside non-institutionalised schools are useless.
In the fights for their rights the skills the local population inhibit, such as in-depth knowledge of the soil and plants, survival skills, and a deep respect for Mother Earth and her ecosystems are deemed less valuable by the international corporations (and often the government).
Ciaran McClean, a Green Party representative for Tyrone, talked about the political environment under which mining activities take place in Northern Ireland. He said that there are no other parties than the Green Party are actively engaged in the activities of the mining industry, as other parties are merely focusing on the typical phrases of “job creation and boosting the local economy”.
The guide of the day, Martin Bradley, was introduced and spoke about his connection to the area. He is a geomorphologist from Derry having done much work in the Sperrins. As he said it; he is not of an activist background, his focus is on nature itself, although a greater knowledge and appreciation of the historical and current situation of our common nature would be a central part of any environmentalist work.
The meeting in Plumbridge was ended with a lovely song called Mamama Pacha Mama, composed and performed by Jim O’Neill, with Comhlamh’s own Grainne as a lovely back-up voice.
We then car pooled out to the Dalradian-run gold mine outside of Gortin to have a closer look at the implications such activities have for the local community and environment. We were fully aware that we would not be welcomed by open arms on our arrival, so we parked the cars a bit away from the site itself and rather walked to it.
Upon arrival some more people from the local community came to join, to spread their personal stories from years of active opposition against the industry. The site itself was closed off, although we got to see the operational site where they had the trucks, etc., which in itself is a contested space; in order to make vertical space to have their offices and equipment the company filled a section of the hill with masses from an unknown source.
Martin was explaining to us how the ecosystems of the valley would be affected by the mine, which clarified a lot for many of us. The worst consequences of the site as it is today are not toxins as we think of it (mercury, heave metals, etc.), but rather relocation of sediments.
The Curraghinalt river is one of the important rivers for salmon and mussels on the north-west coast. If food erosion occurs on a high level in the hillsides, sediments will reach the rivers below and contaminate them till the point where the species cannot survive. Mussels live by filtering water through fine pores, and are dependent on clear waters to survive. Salmon would struggle to reach higher if the water became too muddy, and as a consequence spawning would decrease. So the impacts of one mine in Gortin goes far beyond the gorgeous valley we were strolling in; the ocean off Donegal will have less salmon, the fishers will have less income, and each and every one of us will have less food on our plates.
On our way back to the cars we got to see the true dark side of the mining activities; a neighbour in the area approached some other locals in our group and clearly stated his dislike about our presence. The situation was heated and tense for the short minutes it lasted.
For me the situation showed how devastating it can be for local communities when international corporations, having money as their highest value and absolutely no interest in the health of the community, enters the scene. It is not as black and white as “the locals” against “the corporation”, but there is also the risk of intracommunity fractions and disputes as well. Be it in the hills of Gortin or in the jungle in Peru.
The trip was ended with a walk in the Golls valley where Martin guided us up the hills with countless stories of both human life and geological development over the last centuries and eras.
It seemed like most of the people joining in had not met many of the others earlier, which gave room for many new connections and interesting conversations to take place.
It was truly an interesting day and a very successful effort in trying to get our activist minds out of the meeting rooms and into the nature we are fighting for.