The move came despite nitrogen oxide being responsible for lung ailments and premature deaths.
The EU has rushed to bring in new tests for nitrogen oxide. Recently the German car giant Volkswagen admitted its cars were emitting vastly bigger amounts of gas — but secretly, thanks to software that fooled tests.
Nitrogen oxide, responsible for particulates especially related to asthma and other breathing difficulties, comes mainly from diesel used in more than half the vehicles on Irish roads.
The European Commission agreed to recognise the reality of the situation and allow car makers to gradually cut the real amount of emissions over the next two years.
But the big car producing countries — Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Britain — put huge pressure on the rest of the EU to give them more time.
When experts from each member state met in Brussels last week to thrash out the new rules, only one country voted for the commission’s proposals — the Netherlands.
The Irish Government said it would have preferred the stronger commission proposal but voted the other way to make sure some agreement was reached.
“It was important to avoid further delay and political inaction, as this would be more detrimental still to the environment and consumer confidence”, an official said.
However, Independent MEP Nessa Childers dismissed the statement, asking: “Are they in awe or in hock to Germany’s leadership against proper reinforcement of emissions rules?”.
A member of the parliament’s environment and health committee, she accused national governments of cynicism and said their vote to loosen the rules and facilitate Volkswagen and other manufacturers “showed whose side they are on in this battle between public health and corporate lawlessness”.
Their vote coincided with a scientific report from the US saying Volkswagen cars alone were responsible for 60 premature deaths and that recalling the cards would prevent 140 more. Ms Childers said postponing the tests will make savings for the makers, but come at a huge cost for society.
“Those who think themselves pragmatic by protecting the industry and the European economy are lying to themselves and to the public and, in the process, condemning many of us to a premature death,” she said.
The new agreement means cars can continue to emit their present quantities until the end of 2017, when they will be allowed to emit double the official limit to the end of 2019 when it would fall to 50% more.