EIGHT in 10 of towns and cities in Ireland are now as clean as their European counterparts, a survey has revealed.
But litter is still an on-going problem in some disadvantaged areas where there is an absence of community involvement.
Dublin Airport has seen a big improvement in the last 12 months having been deemed to be a litter blackspot when first surveyed just five years ago.
The new survey by business group Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) shows cleanliness has generally improved across the country over the past year.
Over 90 per cent of rural towns surveyed were deemed clean, while Dublin, Cork and Galway city centres also scored well in the ranking of 40 areas.
A top tier of 16 towns were deemed to be cleaner than European norms. Tullamore in Co. Offaly topped the rankings, followed by Dublin Airport Environs and Leixlip.
But there was a wide gap between towns and disadvantaged city areas, with the the bottom six places in the ranking including Mahon in Cork City, Limerick City's Galvone and Dublin's Ballymun.
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“In the 16 years we have been conducting these surveys, this is possibly our best result,” says Conor Horgan of IBAL. “Across the board we have seen improvements.
"The news is all the more positive given the importance of how we present our country over the summer months, when we attract over 40 per cent of our visitors.
"Also satisfying is the pristine state of the roads around Dublin Airport, which help form a first impression for many of these visitors.”
Tullamore was praised by the inspectors for having many top-ranking sites including Lloyd Town Park and a spotless O’Connor Tullamore Stadium.
The town's Patrick Street was described as “looking very well with so much colourful planting in the form of hanging baskets, ornamental trees and large planter boxes.”
While no area was brandished a 'litter blackspot', Galvone in Limerick City was again seriously littered, while Dublin North Inner City and Cork City North were also 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 Conor Horgan.
“Without these volunteer forces supporting the efforts of the council, these areas will simply not be clean on a sustained basis.”
Despite improvements in Dublin’s North Inner City, the inspectors highlighted a “dumping ground” near Sheriff St Park, rubbish along the canal pathway at Guild Street and several sites suffering from “long-term abuse and neglect” rather than just casual litter.
“Be it in cities or in towns, we enjoy a much cleaner environment than 15 years ago, but litter has not gone away,“ Mr Horgan added.
“This summer we again had examples of extreme littering on beaches for examples, which display a worrying indifference to the natural environment.
“Also, dumping is 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.”
A total of 85 per cent of 32 tourist sites surveyed were clean, among them the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, Muckross House in Killarney, Guinness Storehouse and Newgrange.