Dublin's north inner city is the dirtiest urban area in the State, the Irish Business Against Litter (Ibal) annual survey has found.
The anti-litter league assessment of 42 towns, cities and urban districts carried out by An Taisce for Ibal found a marked improvement in litter levels, with all but seven towns achieving a “clean” rating.
Of those not achieving clean status, five – Tallaght, Dublin Airport's environs, Mullingar, Tipperary town and Portlaoise – were found to be "moderately littered".
Castlebar was “littered” but Dublin’s north inner city was a “litter black spot”.
Dublin city centre achieved a clean rating for the first time in 18 years of monitoring but the area just to the northeast of the centre was found to be extremely dirty.
“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,” An Taisce’s inspectors said.
Dublin City Council is aware of the problem and plans, with the support of the Garda, to call to houses in the area where it believes residents leave their rubbish in the streets instead of paying for waste collection.
Under the initiative, which is to begin this month, householders will be asked to prove they are disposing of their waste in an authorised manner either by using a waste collection firm or taking their waste to a regulated facility. Those who cannot will face legal action.
Ibal chairman Dr Tom Cavanagh said he was also particularly concerned about the roads around Dublin Airport.
“While the airport grounds themselves are spotless, the roads from it are littered. Tourism Ireland invests hugely in selling Ireland as a green, unspoilt island and the country needs to live up to this image from the moment visitors set foot here. Clearly this isn’t the case,” he said.
While more than 80 per cent of towns secured a clean rating from An Taisce, the growing problem of empty buildings in town centres was putting these achievements at risk. Average commercial vacancy rates were just over 20 per cent but in some town centres the inspectors noted that as many as one-third of properties were empty.
"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 . . . It is not just the clean environment that is at stake, these premises are part of the very lifeblood of the town," Dr Cavanagh said.
In the few towns where litter was a problem it was often public parks, approach roads and recycling areas that dragged down the rating. The recycling facility at the Mayo County Council yard in Castlebar was described as “shocking”. Confectionery wrappers, 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, by protecting the profits of the gum industry over the environment in which people live,” Dr Cavanagh said.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the gum industry had made a €9.6 million commitment to “responsible gum disposal” campaigns.
Ireland’s cleanest town will be announced today.