IRELAND has never been so clean, with more than 80pc of our towns and cities now considered as clean or cleaner than their European counterparts.
And it's good news for the capital, with the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) survey showing that for the first time in 18 years the city centre has ended the year as 'clean'.
But it warns that Dublin's north inner city remains a litter blackspot, and raises concerns about the number of vacant premises across the country.
As many as one-third of commercial units in towns and cities are empty, and tend to attract litter and detract from the visual landscape, IBAL said.
While initiatives such as pop-up shops, decorative murals and incentives for start-ups are helping to minimise the negative impact of unoccupied units, IBAL said a more concerted effort was required by local government to tackle this growing threat to our streetscapes.
"The issue needs to be tackled on a more systematic level, with a person in each local authority allocated responsibility for saving town centres, as has happened in Limerick, Wexford and elsewhere," IBAL chairman Dr Tom Cavanagh said.
"In the UK, a 'Distressed Town Centre Taskforce' has emerged to deal specifically with this issue, calling for specially designated areas where compulsory purchase orders and incentives could apply. We would welcome aggressive political initiatives here, too.
"It is not just the clean environment that is at stake. These premises are part of the very lifeblood of the town. Also, visitors aren't interested in out-of-town retail parks -- vibrant town centres are an essential part of our tourist product," he said.
The survey of 42 towns and cities, which was carried out by An Taisce, shows 19 are cleaner than European averages, with another 16 in line with norms.
All of our cities are clean, with this year's city of culture, Limerick, showing an improvement. The environs of Dublin airport have slipped down to 37th out of 42 areas surveyed in the league.
While the airport grounds are "spotless", the roads around it are littered. Deeming Dublin's north inner city a litter blackspot, the An Taisce inspectors said: "The worst-performing sites were not just littered but subjected to long-term dumping and neglect. Upper Buckingham Street and Marlborough Place (off O'Connell Street) were both in a terrible state."
The recycling facility at the Mayo County Council yard in Castlebar was described as "shocking", and in contrast all hotels were free of litter, with the Radisson in Letterkenny singled out for particular praise. Sweet papers, cigarette butts, fast-food packaging and chewing gum were the most common forms of litter last year.
"Faced with the power of the gum lobby, our Government is failing to act for the common good," Dr Cavanagh said.
But Environment Minister Phil Hogan said while the overall results were "generally positive", he had acted on the issue of gum litter. The industry invested €9.6m in a public information campaign, and he was "confident" that the issue would be tackled.
Ireland's top three cleanest towns were: Cavan, Kilkenny and Tramore. The winner out of these three will be announced today.