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The economy has traditionally been based on agriculture and up to the 1960ís the population lived largely in rural areas. Since then, the natural environment has been affected by policies to promote the establishment and expansion of modern industry, by a major enlargement of urban development, and by changed patterns of agriculture, including more intensive production. Despite increased pressures on the environment, late industrialisation and the predominance of clean modern industry have had the advantage of enabling major damage to be prevented or controlled.
Irelandís location off the west coast of Europe, with high annual rainfall and prevailing south-west winds from the Atlantic, contributes to the quality of the environment. The country is largely free from air pollution and its watercourses are of a very high standard. The low population density over much of the country has further helped to preserve the integrity of the landscape.
The protection of the environment is a major objective of Government. In addition to its intrinsic value and contribution to the quality of life, a clean environment is recognised as a crucial economic factor. It is of particular importance in the development of tourism, agriculture and food production, mariculture, aquaculture and other natural resource-based industries, and in the marketing abroad of quality products and services.
Legislation to protect and maintain the quality of the environment is implemented by local authorities and by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Agency promotes and implements standards for environmental protection and management. From 1994 it has been responsible for licensing those categories of development which have the greatest potential to cause pollution.