The Irish authorities are passing new cars as being compliant with current emissions legislation without being able to physically check those emissions for accuracy.
Under EU law, any member nation may pass a new vehicle as fit for sale across the bloc, as the standards are the same for everyone. Ireland, lacking the facilities to physically check and examine a vehicle's emissions, is essentially rubber stamping the data sent to us by other authorities and the carmakers themselves.
Eoin Bannon is the Irish representative for environmental pressure group Transport and Environment (T&E), and he told The Irish Times that vehicles are being passed as fit to sell by national authorities when they are in fact vastly over the EU limits for harmful emissions in real-world driving.
Bannon said the Irish testing system, overseen by the National Authority for Standards in Ireland (NSAI) and the Road Safety Authority (RSA), has already passed as fit for sale such models such as the BMW 320d and X5 and the Mini Countryman 1.6d.
“These three were approved in Ireland, and were then retested by the UK government as part of its dieselgate investigation,” said Bannon.
T&E’s concern is national emissions-testing authorities are turning a blind eye to excessive emissions so as not to upset investment and employment in Europe’s huge car-making industry.
T&E even went so far as to name what it says are the “Dirty Thirty” – the cars which according to its figures are the worst for exceeding their rated emissions in real-world conditions. The national agencies that passed them as fit for sale were also named and shamed.
Some cars were way over their limits when tested by T&E, such as the Renault Kadjar 1.5 dCi (passed by the French authorities, but which recorded 14 times the legal nitrogen oxide – NoX – limit on the road), the Jaguar XE (passed in the UK, but emitting seven times the NoX limit in T&E's tests) and the Suzuki Vitara 1.6 diesel (passed by the Dutch authority; 14 times over the limit).
Nitrogen oxides, found especially in the exhausts of diesel cars, has been identified as a leading cause of respiratory illness and has been linked to tens of thousands of deaths each year across Europe.
“We stress that the list is not a ranking, or merely a list of the most polluting vehicles,” said T&E. “The list intends to illustrate the fullest possible spectrum in terms of vehicles and national approval authorities of suspicious emissions behaviour identified in the national investigations.”
Ireland's role in all this is essentially one of ticking boxes provided by others. Michael Rebstock, from BMW Group, told The Irish Times that choosing to certify vehicles in Ireland was partially to "speed up the certification process. We perform certain partial approvals in other European countries.
“The NSAI and KBA [Germany’s Federal Transport Authority] work closely together and use the same standards. This is a common procedure for obtaining a European approval. It’s more a matter of capacity than of particular expertise.
"In principle, any European authority can be chosen. The reason for choosing Ireland were for capacity, the fact that the NSAI is working very closely together with KBA Germany and is applying the same level of standard, and it is an English-speaking authority, which ensures a sound level of communication."
Rebstock explained: “Emissions approval for all BMW Group vehicles is obtained from the NSAI on the basis of the test reports issued by the technical services such as Dekra and TÜV.
“With this partial approval, we then apply to the German KBA for full vehicle approval. Full vehicle approval consists of a series of partial approvals, for example noise, exhaust emissions, motor performance and so on.”
The problem is that neither the NSAI nor the RSA can actually confirm for themselves what they’re supposed to be signing off.
Brian Farrell from the RSA said that the Irish authorities have not launched any such investigations. "There are no technical services in Ireland which have competency to carry out such technical inspections.
“The RSA, NSAI and the Department of Transport are being kept abreast of the status of investigations that are being carried out by other member states through frequent engagement at European level.”
The NSAI, when asked for comment, simply said that “there are no testing systems here in Ireland for emissions”.
European transport ministers met in Brussels last week to discuss the unfolding scandals of misleading fuel economy and emissions figures, kicked off last September by Volkswagen's "dieselgate", but which has also swept up other carmakers, including Renault, Mercedes, Nissan, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Opel and Fiat.
At the meeting, the German delegation, under minister for transport
(who has been especially vocal in recent weeks in condemning car makers for evading emissions legislation) tabled a motion, which would have blamed overly-vague EU laws and regulations for the loopholes that are exploited at a national level by the car companies.
“European legislation governing acceptable and prohibited forms of influencing exhaust after treatment is interpreted in different ways,” said the German proposal.
“Wording this exception more precisely would increase legal certainty .”
The proposal was roundly criticised in the run-up to the meeting by environmental groups, with some describing it as a “non paper” and a “kick the can up the road” exercise.
At the transport ministers' meeting there was a significant backlash against the German proposal. EU commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska countered the proposal by saying the situation would be better sorted by the national authorities working harder to properly enforce the existing legislation, rather than altering the current wording and passing responsibility to the EU.