Kathy Sheridan: We should follow Europe’s lead on daylight saving

Why every October, as nature is facilitating a natural adjustment to fading light, do we voluntarily hasten the onset of darkness?

March 27th, 2015: Dr David Malone from Maynooth University Departments of Mathematics and Statistics explains why the clocks change for daylight saving time. Video: Maynooth University

 

This column is not about Brexit. This is in deference to the several readers who declare themselves terminally bored by columns about a) Brexit, or b) Donald Trump. Let us talk instead of more cheerful matters such as bringing more light into our wintry lives. Let us ask why, for example, we persist with the biannual clock-change that makes this a great country for crepuscular cats.

Why every October, as nature is facilitating a natural adjustment to fading light, do we voluntarily hasten the onset of darkness? Why we persist with this for five interminable months, beginning nearly eight weeks before the winter solstice and continuing for some 14 weeks after it. Why we allow some kind of national masochism to push “winter” time beyond the spring equinox.

It might seem like another of those pointless annual discussions about clock-change, but this time there is a purpose to it. We have a say in it, if not a vote (note the deadline below*). Any change will be effected in speedy fashion. The last mandatory clock change could take place on Sunday, March 31st, 2019.

The light is there, but because of the way we organise the country we don’t use it

For 40 years campaigners have been pointing out that clock-change would reduce road deaths, and improve mental and physical health. It would give us the promise of a little more light at the end of the working day, enough to remind that we are not doomed to live in eternal darkness. It is no small thing.

March of time: winter and summer clock changing may soon be a thing of the past.
March of time: winter and summer clock changing could become a thing of the past.

“People would be more cheerful, healthier, and you’d have more useful time,” said Tommy Broughan, a Dublin North East TD and the last politician to have a shot at this. He was the man behind the Brighter Evenings Bill, who called for winter and summer time here to be moved forward by an hour. “The light is there, but because of the way we organise the country we don’t use it.”

The neighbours

The then minister Alan Shatter concluded that we could just get up an hour earlier in the morning – as was common practice in Norway and Sweden – and there was no need to legislate.

It’s a good old Fine Gael refrain, of course. But as so often before the key decider lay closer to home: it’s all about synchronising with the neighbours. “Realistically Ireland is not going to put itself in a different time zone to Northern Ireland or the UK,” Shatter said at the time, echoed firmly by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.

But that was five years ago, back in the olden days, back in a time when we could have genial chats with the neighbours without waiting for them to crash the car or build a bonfire under their house.

Back then Broughan’s Bill was doomed at birth once Britain rejected a Bill to move the clock forward in the same year. We fell in.

It’s nice to be given a say, but what if the consultation reveals that Ireland wants to opt for continental time?

Some 50 years ago, when Britain dropped a year-round summer time experiment – an experiment that suited us well by all accounts – there was some debate here as to whether to stick to our own Irish time. At a public meeting during the 1969 election campaign, Garret FitzGerald argued that Ireland should show its independence by continuing with the time experiment. If Ireland could be different from Britain in 1914, independent Ireland could also have its own time, he said at the time, as reported here by his son John last year.

Setting our clocks forward in spring is a real challenge to our bodies. Photograph: iStock
Resetting our body clocks can be a real challenge. File photograph: iStock

The big difference in 2018 is that the public consultation is EU-led. It holds regulatory power over time-change, and its online public consultation suggests that more than eight in 10 EU citizens are in favour of permanent summer time, aka continental time.

Reminder

The European Commission’s proposal is to end the biannual clock changes across the EU next year, and member states must notify the commission by April on whether they want to opt for permanent summer or winter time.

In line with that, Minister Charlie Flanagan has posted a reminder to citizens to have their say by Friday. “Let me have your views on the twice-yearly changing of the time. Should we change at all. Should we be winter/summer all year? And what about Northern Ireland?”

It’s nice to be given a say, but what if the consultation reveals that Ireland wants to opt for continental time? What are the chances of coaxing a Brexit-bound UK into synchronising with an EU-led proposal? Is that the end of our continental time-zone ambitions?

This is the problem with Brexit and Brexity attitudes: they cannot be evaded regardless of this column’s honourable intentions.

*The link to the Department of Justice survey is HERE. The deadline is Friday.

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