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Friends of the Earth NI in court to force government to resume MOT diesel emission tests

Friends of the Earth NI, supported by The Public Interest Litigation Support (PILS) Project, are at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast today, in an attempt to end 17 years of failure on the part of the government to properly test the emissions from diesel cars.

Diesel tests were introduced at MOT testing centres in 2006 but were suspended after 12 weeks due to concerns about health and safety in the testing halls.

In 2018, a BBC documentary team bought a second hand diesel car which was due for MOT and booked a test:

‘Our confirmation email and the NI Direct website both informed us that the MOT would involve a metered smoke test to check the car’s emissions. That was not true. We secretly filmed throughout the test and there was no evidence of a metered smoke test.’

The Department of Infrastructure say that reintroducing the tests in conditions that are safe for the testers is prohibitively expensive and that instead, test centers carry out ‘a visual inspection’ for toxic fumes and check for engine malfunction lights.

Friends of the Earth NI respond to this by pointing out that as a result of this inaction, there are hundreds of thousands of diesel cars in the country which have never received a legally compliant exhaust emissions test.

During the one-day High Court hearing, their legal team will argue that, in failing to fully test the emissions of diesel cars in Northern Ireland, the Department for Infrastructure has not only breached its duties under vehicle testing law but also its duties to protect public health and the health of Northern Ireland’s biodiversity and wildlife habitats.

Speaking in advance of the judicial review, PILS Director Maria McCloskey said that: ‘17 straight years of a failure to comply with the law is completely unacceptable. Our hope for this challenge is that the Department will not be permitted to let this serious air quality failing go on any longer. This landmark public interest case is about defending everyone’s right to breathe clean air and eradicating a triple threat to public health, natural habitats and biodiversity.’

James Orr, Friends of the Earth NI Director, also commented: ‘The consistent failure to test diesel emissions on cars by government controlled MOT centres, is a reckless act by a Department who are there to protect the air that we breathe. Human health and the health of our environment has been put at risk for the last 17 years by the Department for Infrastructure’s dereliction of duty. We are taking the government to court because we all have a right to breathe clean air.’

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Chris Quinn, said: ‘It is deplorable that the Department for Infrastructure have not been carrying out their legal obligations for 17 years. NICCY intervened in this case to hold the government to account and to highlight the relevant human right concerns and the serious adverse impact that poor air quality has on children’s health. This milestone case is so important, as these exhaust emissions affect us all, but it particularly affects children and young people, as is borne out by the scientific evidence referred to in this case. It is vitally important that the Department acts urgently to ensure that emissions are adequately tested. It is a basic right for children and young people to be able to breathe clean air.’

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