Stick with summer time and the living could be easier

 

If the UK decides to switch to Central European Time, writes CIAN TRAYNOR, would the Republic have any choice but to follow suit?

AS THE CLOCKS are put forward an hour this weekend, stretching daylight into the evenings, many are wondering why it can’t stay that way.

In the UK, the House of Commons has voted to consider the Daylight Saving Bill, which calls on ministers to analyse the potential benefits of keeping Central European Time and to test it out for three years. If the bill were passed, Ireland would have a decision to make: join in or face having a time zone that is different from Northern Ireland’s.

The idea is to keep putting the clocks forward in spring and back again in autumn, but effectively move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening, when more people are awake. Those in favour argue that it would reduce energy bills, encourage children to exercise more and bring the country into line with EU trading partners.

Every March and October since 1993, the senator Feargal Quinn has pleaded for the Seanad to consider changing the time permanently, insisting Ireland should stop waiting for another country to make the decision for us.

“The only reason we haven’t moved on is because Britain hasn’t moved on it,” he says. “I argue that we should go ahead with it anyway, as very quickly they would follow us when they see the benefits. There are very few voices here expressing any serious concern that cannot be overcome.”

The main objection is darker mornings in winter. At that time of year the sun would rise just a couple of minutes before 10am in Dublin and 15 minutes later in Galway, according to Tom Ray, professor of astronomy at Dunsink Observatory, which provides lighting-up times for the entire country.

“From the point of view of science and astronomy, it makes no difference whatsoever,” Ray says. “But it wouldn’t particularly suit Ireland. If it were just left to ourselves, there would be no sense in it.”

A similar trial was conducted between 1968 and 1971 in the UK and Ireland. The main contention at the time was the effects of a later sunrise. One side claimed darker mornings increased the number of road traffic deaths and injuries. Others argued that by making the afternoon rush-hour lighter, those types of accidents fell in the evenings by a greater number. [A spokesman for the Road Safety Authority in Ireland said it was not an issue actively being considered.] Ultimately the advantages and disadvantages were deemed unquantifiable, due to the impact drink-driving legislation passed in 1967 was likely to have had on the figures, and the old system was reinstated.

Now, Quinn says, its time to try again, even if it means changing school hours between December and January, the darkest months. For one thing, he adds, it would give Irish tourism a much-needed boost.

It may not be a coincidence that the peak tourism season corresponds with the clocks being put forward in March and then back again in October, says Aidan Pender, director of policy and industry development at Fáilte Ireland.

“If we could get another hour or two in the evening, I’d say yes,” Pender says. “Some of the strengths of Irish tourism are around restaurants, pubs and hotels – the evening side of things. To that extent, more working hours could mean more jobs. Irish tourism would support [moving forward an hour] but we’re mindful there are a lot of other considerations to be taken into account.”

One of those considerations is agriculture. In the past, farmers in Scotland and Northern Ireland have spoken out against any proposed change to the time, claiming they suffer disproportionately during dark mornings. But earlier this month, the UK’s National Farmers’ Union said they would no longer oppose any such move and farmers in Ireland are indicating they would welcome brighter evenings.

Spokesmen for the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association and the Irish Farmers’ Association all suggested the extra hours of daylight could enable farmers to work more efficiently at certain times of year.

But then there are those who are just fed up with having to change clocks at all. Frances McCarthy, astronomer and education officer at the Blackrock Castle Observatory at Cork Institute of Technology, gets up at sunrise all year round. She says daylight saving has made her late for work and she tires of trying to keep track of all the time changes when making international phone calls.

“It’s a totally arbitrary, artificial event,” she says with a laugh. “Personally I’d love to get rid of it. We might as well move to summer time and stay on it. The hassle of remembering to change your clocks, losing that hour and being groggy for three or four days – it’d be easier if it was just the same all year round.”