Towns clean up their act, but 'dumping is the new litter'
The country has recorded its best-ever performance in tackling litter, however a growth in dumping is now a source of concern.
The latest survey from campaign group Irish Business Against Litter (Ibal) found towns and cities have recorded their best performance in 16 years, with Tullamore, Co Offaly, winning the title of Ireland's cleanest town.
More than 90pc of rural towns surveyed by An Taisce on behalf of Ibal were deemed clean, while Dublin, Cork and Galway city centres all scored well in the rankings. A top tier of 16 towns were deemed "cleaner than European norms".
However, despite improvements in tackling litter elsewhere, many disadvantaged urban areas continued to be plagued by litter. Ibal said this was due to a lack of community involvement in tackling litter.
Ibal spokesman Conor Horgan said "dumping is the new litter" and that incidents of dumping are likely to increase when mandatory pay-by-weight charging is introduced.
"In the 16 years we have been conducting these surveys, this is possibly our best result.
"Be it in cities or in towns, we enjoy a much cleaner environment than 16 years ago, but litter has not gone away," warned Mr Horgan.
"This summer we again had extreme littering on beaches for example, which displays a worrying indifference to the natural environment. Marine litter is a source of great concern at present and an issue Ibal may concentrate more on in the future.
"Also, dumping appears to be on the increase, and the more we ask people to pay for waste disposal the greater an issue it is likely to become. It may not be as widespread, but dumping is the new litter in many respects."
The business group supports the 'polluter pays' principle, but said some of the monies raised should be ring-fenced for local authorities to tackle the increased dumping that will result from people looking to evade charges.
Tullamore topped the latest rankings and was praised by inspectors for having "so many top-ranking sites", among them Lloyd Town Park and "spotless" O'Connor Tullamore Stadium.
In second place was Dublin Airport environs, followed by Leixlip, Co Kildare, in third.
While no area was named a "litter blackspot", Galvone in Limerick city was found, yet again, to be seriously littered, while Dublin's north inner city and the north of Cork city were both deemed to be littered.
"We haven't seen as much improvement in these social housing areas, where communities are often transient, social neglect is evident, and community groups and tidy towns committees are lacking compared to in mixed communities," said Mr Horgan.
Despite improvements in Dublin's north inner city, An Taisce inspectors highlighted a "dumping ground" near Sheriff Street Park as well as rubbish along the canal pathway at Guild Street. They also pointed to several sites that were suffering from "long-term abuse and neglect" rather than just casual littering.
In Galvone, the rear of the industrial estate was heavily littered and there were also large accumulations of litter at the Irish Rail site near Kennedy Park as well as at the recycling facility at Roxboro Shopping Centre, which was described as being in "a terrible state".
Some 85pc of tourist sites surveyed were found to be clean, among them the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, Co Clare; Muckross House in Killarney, Co Kerry; the Guinness Storehouse and Newgrange, Co Meath. The remainder of the 32 sites were said to have a small amount of litter.
Environment Minister Denis Naughten welcomed the best ever results from the Ibal survey, but said he was concerned about levels of fly-tipping and illegal dumping. He said he has provided €1.3m for a new enforcement initiative to tackle these problems, which will involve local authorities, agencies and voluntary bodies.