Six civil society organisations have called on the Government to use the upcoming Budget to rebalance car sales away from diesel cars in Ireland by committing to increasing the tax on the fuel every year for the next five years.

The group says that substantial improvements in air quality and health could be achieved if the excise duty on diesel was increased to bring it into line with the tax on petrol.

They referred to concerns, raised by the World Health Organization, that diesel exhaust fumes can cause cancer, and that diesel cars emit ten times more health-damaging pollutants than petrol cars.

Diesel cars, according to the group, are the single largest cause of an air pollutant called "particulate matter" which can penetrate sensitive parts of the lungs, contributing to respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, and aggravate heart disease.

The group cites research suggesting that more than 14,000 years of life are lost every year in Ireland due to "particulate" pollution.

Recent data from CSO show that diesel cars now make up as much as 70% of all new cars sales in Ireland - up from about 10% in the year 2000 and now the highest proportion in the world.

The excise duty levied on diesel is currently 11 cents per litre less than the excise charged on petrol.

The Strategy Group wants the Government to increase diesel tax by 2.2 cents per litre each year until 2021 by which time that tax incentive in favour of diesel in Ireland will be eliminated.

They also say that the additional tax revenue raised by this approach should be used to enhance low carbon transport, including better public transport, as well as recharging facilities for electric cars.

The group have estimated that, if implemented, the tax change would cost drivers of diesel cars about €67 per year assuming the consumption of a full tank of diesel per week.

The strategy group includes the Asthma Society of Ireland, An Taisce, The Irish Environmental Network, Green Budget Europe, Transport and Environment, and the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network.