Irish geoscience worth €3.2bn, but zinc industry no longer leading Europe

7 Nov 2017

The Burren is a major centre of geotourism. Image: nevio/Shutterstock

A new report into the potential value of geoscience within Ireland believes we are overlooking more than €3bn in economic worth.

While Ireland tends to put a considerable focus on sectors such as pharmaceuticals and agriculture, a new report examining the value of geoscience – covering areas such as land surveying, mineral extraction and geotourism – believes it is worth more than we think.

Published today (7 November) by Geological Survey Ireland, the report puts a value of €3.2bn on the overall impact of the geoscience economy in 2016.

By some distance, the largest contributor to the sector is in the extractive industries, with a direct economic impact of €940m. This is through the mining of coal and lignite; extraction of crude petroleum and natural gas; mining of metal and non-ferrous ores, and mining support service activities.

Zinc extraction declines

However, as a whole, the amount of mineral resources extracted has more than halved in the space of a decade, from more than 120m tonnes of fossil fuels in 2007 to less than 60m in 2016.

Most notably, Ireland lost its status as the biggest extractor of zinc in Europe for the first time in many years.

Despite this, Ireland’s two largest zinc-lead underground mines – Lisheen and Boliden Tara Mines – account for nearly a quarter of European zinc mine output.

In terms of employment, the report said that more than 15,000 people are directly employed in geoscience sectors, 4,000 of which are in mining and quarrying. This is 2,000 less than there were in 2009 and it has seen a gradual decline in employment since, aside from a very small increase in 2015.

The Star Wars effect

Where the report sees improvement, however, is in geotourism and geoheritage, with major Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars using Ireland’s rugged landscape as a backdrop, thereby encouraging people to come visit the country.

It is estimated that of the 19m tourists that visited Ireland in 2016, 4.5m visited fee-paying geotourism sites such as the Cliffs of Moher and the Rock of Cashel.

This contributed a total of €33.56m to the Irish economy, with an additional €330m raised through indirect spending from hill-walking and rock-climbing.

Commenting on the report, Minister of State for Rural Affairs and Natural Resources Seán Kyne, TD, said: “[Geoscience] is a sector that may be sometimes overlooked and yet is clearly very significant.

“In terms of employment, it is worth noting that these are generally high-end professional jobs, and that much of the activity, being linked to geotourism and natural resources, is located throughout the country and not concentrated in our cities.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic