THE LAST CLOCK CHANGE?

This week­end could be the last time clocks change in Ire­land – lead­ing to dawn at 4am in June, or 10am in De­cem­ber, and re­set­ting watches as we cross the Bor­der

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Hugh Line­han

Look­ing for­ward to that ex­tra hour of sleep as the clocks go back this week­end? Savour that mo­ment be­cause this may well be the very last time this par­tic­u­lar rit­ual will ever hap­pen. If all goes ac­cord­ing to a plan laid out by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the last- ever manda­tory clock change in the Euro­pean Union will take place in 2019. Mem­ber states must no­tify the com­mis­sion by April of next year on whether they want to opt for per­ma­nent sum­mer or per­ma­nent win­ter time. Whether all 27 states are pre­pared to go along, how­ever, is not yet clear.

This week­end, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice ( which has re­spon­si­bil­ity for ev­ery­thing to do with time­keep­ing) is an­nounc­ing plans for its pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion here on the pro­posal.

A re­cent Euro­pean Com­mis­sion on­line pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion across the EU found 84 per cent of cit­i­zens were in favour of end­ing the chang­ing of clocks in spring and au­tumn. The com­mis­sion trum­peted the fact that it had got 4.6 mil­lion re­sponses, the high­est num­ber ever re­ceived in an ex­er­cise of this sort, and that 84 per cent of those backed the change to a sin­gle year-round time.

Less loudly ad­ver­tised was the fact that engagement var­ied sig­nif­i­cantly from coun­try to coun­try; three mil­lion of those re­sponses came from Ger­many, rep­re­sent­ing al­most 4 per cent of that coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. In con­trast, less than 0.25 per cent of Ir­ish peo­ple both­ered to re­spond.

Patch­work of time­zones

The ques­tion now is whether in­di­vid­ual mem­ber states will agree to pro­ceed along the lines ad­vo­cated by the com­mis­sion, which has stated a pref­er­ence for sum­mer time to be ap­plied uni­ver­sally. There is po­ten­tial for chaos, with a patch­work of time­zones emerg­ing across con­ti­nen­tal Europe.

Ini­tial polling, for ex­am­ple, sug­gests peo­ple in the Nether­lands and Den­mark would pre­fer per­ma­nent win­ter time, while Ger­mans want sum­mer time.

“We are not propos­ing that the whole EU ei­ther switches to sum­mer or win­ter time,” said trans­port com­mis­sioner Vi­o­leta Bulc at a press con­fer­ence last month. “All we are propos­ing is that we do it to­gether.”

But clock-switch­ing on the Dutch-Ger­man bor­der is hardly the de­sired out­come.

An in­trigu­ing twist from the Ir­ish per­spec­tive is whether the UK, at a mo­ment of height­ened po­lit­i­cal ten­sion, will view this as a sym­bolic op­por­tu­nity to flaunt its newly ac­quired in­de­pen­dence. Brex­i­teers’ en­thu­si­asm for such a stance may be dimmed when they re­alise it would mean Bri­tain shar­ing a time­zone with Brus­sels and Berlin for al­most half the year.

Bor­der time lag

But un­der­stand­ably, me­dia cov­er­age here so far has fo­cused on the prospect of trav­ellers from Dun­dalk to Newry hav­ing to ad­just their watches – or of peo­ple nip­ping across from Lif­ford to Stra­bane in search of an ex­tra hour’s drink­ing time.

For ob­vi­ous ge­o­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, Ire­land and the UK have been on the same clock since the re­gional time zone con­cept was first in­tro­duced in the 19th cen­tury. We moved in lock­step with t he UK when i t ex­per­i­mented with year-round sum­mer time in the late 1960s, and any re­cent pro­pos­als for change, such as one mooted in a Pri­vate Mem­bers’ Bill re­jected by then min­is­ter for jus­tice Alan Shat­ter in 2013, have been con­tin­gent on de­ci­sions made at West­min­ster and, more re­cently, in Brus­sels.

So what would the changes mean? If Ire­land opts for year- round day­light sav­ings time, then dawn won’t break in the west of Ire­land un­til al­most 10am in mid-De­cem­ber. How­ever, if “win­ter time” is main­tained through­out the year, sunrise in Dublin will oc­cur well be­fore 4am in June, and the stretch in the evenings will be a lot less grand, with sun­set hap­pen­ing be­fore 9pm even in mid­sum­mer.

Those are the ex­tremes, but where per­ma­nent sum­mer time of­fers real gains is in the “shoul­der months” of Novem­ber, Fe­bru­ary and March, when the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple will have much more day­light at the end of their school or work­ing day with­out too much neg­a­tive im­pact in the morn­ings.

There has been a broad at­tempt across the world in re­cent decades to do away with an­nual time- shifts, based on data about their neg­a­tive health ef­fects and on a more gen­eral sense that an ad­di­tional hour of day­light in the evening is more valu­able than one in the morn­ing.

Mean­while, the main ra­tio­nale for the cur­rent sys­tem – re­duced elec­tric­ity us­age – has been ren­dered less im­por­tant by the in­tro­duc­tion in re­cent years of en­ergy-ef­fi­cient elec­tric lighting. Life­styles have also changed enor­mously since the cur­rent sys­tem’s in­tro­duc­tion a cen­tury ago, and even since the last ex­per­i­men­tal change 50 years ago.

Flex­i­ble work­ing time, in­creased leisure op­por­tu­ni­ties and longer re­tail open­ing hours all have an ef­fect on how we spend our day.

Sea­sonal clocks

The main im­ped­i­ment to change, it seems, is in­sti­tu­tional. In the US, leg­is­la­tors in Cal­i­for­nia and other states are also push­ing for year- round day­light sav­ings time, but they need to per­suade the fed­eral govern­ment be­fore they can pro­ceed. As in the EU, Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tion al­lows each state to de­cide its time­zone but for­bids in­di­vid­ual states from choos­ing when or if to change their sea­sonal clocks. Whether the grid­locked US po­lit­i­cal sys­tem can re­spond re­mains to be seen.

Here, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion asks three ques­tions. Do you want to stop chang­ing the clocks twice a year? If the clock changes stop, do you want to re­main on sum­mer time or win­ter time? Is stay­ing on the same time as the UK more i mpor­tant than your choice of sum­mer­time/win­ter­time?

“It is very im­por­tant that as many cit­i­zens as pos­si­ble re­spond to this con­sul­ta­tion and ex­press their views so that the Govern­ment may take ac­count of pub­lic opin­ion when con­sid­er­ing this pro­posal by the EU,” says Min­is­ter for Jus­tice Char­lie Flana­gan, clearly im­ply­ing that the Govern­ment will take ac­count of pub­lic opin­ion with­out be­ing bound by it.

Ul­ti­mately the suc­cess or fail­ure of the pro­posal may come to be seen as a test of the EU’s abil­ity to act quickly and de­ci­sively on a sim­ple is­sue which will have an al­most im­me­di­ate ef­fect upon peo­ple’s lives. The process so far has been star­tlingly fast but the na­tional con­sul­ta­tions may be a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, de­pend­ing per­haps on the views of the peo­ple who get up early in the morn­ing.

Wher‘

e per­ma­nent sum­mer time of­fers real gains is in Novem­ber, Fe­bru­ary and March, when peo­ple will have more day­light at the end of the day

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

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