Ireland’s own ‘Dieselgate’ : the dieselisation of Ireland’s car fleet spells trouble

The rapid dieselisation of the Irish fleet could spell trouble for public health

70% of new cars sold in Ireland are diesel fueled – particulates and nitrogen oxide in diesel are known to cause and aggravate Asthma, Heart Disease, Bronchitis and Emphysema

  • Ireland’s energy consumption is 30% above the EU average – €3.6 billion was spent last year importing fossil fuels for transport
  • The transport sector is Ireland’s largest share of energy related CO² emissions accounting for one third of our primary energy demand
  • The primacy of private car use in Ireland is comparatively high at 74.4% in 2004 – 69% of work commuter trips made by car and 83.2% of inland passenger journeys by private car
  • 0.98% or slightly less than one percent of the 2015 transportation budget was devoted to sustainable transportation
  • Under the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ diesel should be taxed in accordance with the severity of pollution it causes
  • In Ireland, tax on diesel is currently 11% lower than that applicable to petrol in spite of equivalent CO² emissions IN ADDITION TO Particulates and Nitrogen Oxide which pose public health concerns
Irish Taxation unwittingly incentivizes diesel-fuelled cars 

Ireland is running counter to the rest of Europe in the purchase of new diesel-engine vehicles. Indeed, seven out of every ten new cars sold in Ireland now runs on diesel. Why is it that we are the only nation in Europe that seems to be rapidly converting to diesel fuel?

The Irish motor-taxation bands are tied to Carbon emissions but fail to address the Nitrogen Oxide and Particulates emissions from diesel engines which are a major public-health concern. Ireland is driving its fleet—pardon the pun—towards the cheaper option of diesel by failing to abide by the ‘polluter pays principle’. The ‘polluter pays principle’ is the foundation of environmental law which underpins Ecological taxation or ‘Ecotax’.  The idea is that the government will levy a tax on activities which are considered to be harmful to the environment and thereby disincentivize the activity deemed to be harmful. The revenue generated is often used to proportionally offset reductions in taxes applicable to activities to be encouraged (e.g. taxes on labour or renewable resources). This is how it’s supposed to work, but the statistics shown above tell a different story.

A lag in our taxation policy combined with, perhaps understandable, apprehension on the part of some elected representatives to increase costs of business and farming have led to a deviation from the polluter pays principle in Ireland. Except that it’s the Irish people that will pay this cost in their most invaluable resource: their health.

Irish Motor Taxation is driving us away from sustainable transportation and  reduced emissions!

In a bizarre twist, the lowest motor taxation band (A0) is designed to tax vehicles which have zero carbon emissions. So not only, are the majority of driver’s now endangering public health and failing to pay a penalty for it but those small few who choose the sustainable and pollution free option are still being taxed. This is a clear example of the ‘polluter pays’ gone awry, where somehow the zero-emissions electric car drivers are paying tax in spite of their socially responsible choice whereas their peers are saving money with their polluting diesel engines. In Norway, where the government incentivizes plug-in electric vehicles they have the highest uptake per capita of ev’s in the world, with Oslo recognized as the EV capital.

How did Norway achieve this impressive uptake of sustainable electrically powered vehicles? Simple, the parliament incentivized zero-emissions vehicles by making them exempt from VAT sales tax (25% in Norway) as well as Road Tax, Public Parking fees and Toll Payments. In addition to this, electric cars are allowed to use bus lanes. The end result has been that Norway achieved its goal of putting 50,000 electric vehicles on Norwegian roads by by 2015.

While there are grants available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland for purchase of EV’s, the vehicles are not exempt from road tax or VAT and are not offered the range of perks which have been afforded to their Norwegian counterparts. The stark contrast between Norway and Ireland begs the question: what has happened to the polluter pays principle in Irish motor vehicle taxation? Why aren’t the dangerous emissions from diesel-powered engines being penalized?

If Ireland continues to tax diesel-powered vehicles only in accordance with their CO² emissions then the Irish market could become flooded with heavily discounted smaller diesel-vehicles currently being phased out by large European manufacturers like Renault and Volkswagen.


I believe that stakeholder engagement will assist us in future planning and policy development for the sector. In that light, I want to acknowledge the crucial role industry has played and will play in supporting the polluter pays principle and improving our overall national resource efficiency.

Denis Naughten, Waste Management conference November 30, 2016

Yet Ireland continues to tax zero-emissions electric vehicles and fails to curb the uptake of diesel-fuelled cars with any form of Ecotax.

Dieselgate: Car manufactures attempt to conceal toxic pollutants in their emissions tests

The scandal which became known as ‘Dieselgate’ involved the German car manufacturer Volkswagen. It erupted on 18 September 2015 when the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act upon the discovery that VW had intentionally programmed its diesel-engine vehicles to cheat the US emissions test. Software installed in the vehicles detected testing and lowered the emission of the infamous Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) by a factor of upto 40. The findings stemmed from a study on emissions discrepancies between European and US models of vehicles commissioned in 2014 by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

Dieselgate has had far-reaching consequences not only for the manufacturer VW but for the industry at large and more importantly for the global public perception of diesel-fuelled vehicles. The black smoke  and noisy engines which tarnished the image of older diesel cars has been replaced by a large-scale defrauding of environmental law by wily manufacturers. The disdain exhibited towards compliance with environmental laws in the dieselgate affair is unprecedented. The industry itself, still reeling from the shock of the scandal, has begun to back away from diesel cars in response. Volkswagen and Renault, two of Europe’s largest car manufacturers have begun a policy of dedieselization of their car fleets. Furthermore, Volkswagen and Renault have announced that they are phasing out diesel cars in order to concentrate on their electric vehicle lines of phev’s (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) and ev’s (electric vehicles).

Given Ireland’s rapid uptake of diesel-powered vehicles, the potential for the Irish market to be flooded with cheap discontinued diesel cars is a worrying prospect. It would set a terrible trend for the Irish effort to meet our carbon emissions targets not to mention public-health.

Industry collaboration on non-proprietary high-powered electric car charging network across Europe for 2020.

Reuters reported yesterday (November 29, 2016) that four of the world’s top carmakers have agreed to invest in thousands of fast-charging sites across Europe to boost mainstream acceptance of electric cars. The aim is to have the network rolled out to “almost all’ European countries prior to 2020, or just in time to impact CO² emissions prior to the enforcement of EU rules. According to the press release construction on these sites is due to begin in 2017 and  should be completed by 2020. The joint-venture has not yet committed to all European countries, let’s hope that Ireland’s island status wont see us overlooked by this exciting venture.

About the Author

David Hayden

David is a contributor to the Green News. He has a Bachelor's Degree in International Business and French from UCD as well as a Master's Degrees in French literature and New Media from the University of California at San Diego and the Johns Hopkins University.

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