Farm Ireland

Monday 24 July 2017

We're still in the dark on time change

Ronnie Bellew

Bright evenings that linger on towards midnight in the west during high summer, along with mid-winter mornings when it will be dark until almost 10am, could become the norm in Ireland if a new campaign succeeds in harmonising time zones across western Europe.

The campaign is being driven by British activists, who claim to have the backing of more than 200 MPs for their proposals, which are tabled for debate in the House of Commons in December.

The Lighter Later campaign wants Britain to switch from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to Central European Time (CET) and put the clocks permanently forward by an hour. Clocks would still go forward by an hour in the spring and back by an hour in the autumn, but the switch to CET would mean longer evenings and later sunrises all year round.

If Britain switches to CET, Ireland (and Portugal, the only other western European country in our time zone) would come under pressure to follow suit.

Senator Feargal Quinn has been advocating a switch to CET since 1993, and he believes it's an idea whose time has come.

"This could potentially come down to a cabinet decision in London and it (a switch to CET) is something that could happen as soon as October 2011.

"The benefits we could get from an extra hour of light in the evenings all year round would be substantial," he says.

"Accidents on the roads would be reduced, there would be an increase in tourism revenues and employment, and we would reduce our carbon footprint with the savings on fuel and energy use."

Senator Quinn acknowledges that the extended dark mornings would see schoolchildren and many commuters travelling in the dark during the mid-winter weeks, but he believes the year-round benefits of a switch to CET would more than compensate for this inconvenience. The ICMSA, however, says any switch to CET "must take account of the very real implications for farming".

"Under a move to standardised European Time, the sunrise in the western part of the country would move to as late as 10am in the morning (during the mid-winter weeks). This is a factor the ICMSA thinks is especially pertinent in terms of health and safety," says Ciaran Dolan, the association's general secretary.

"One thinks of the amount of work and travel that would have to be undertaken in darkness. There is also the reality that such a move would affect Ireland's western seaboard to a far greater degree than would be the case for the south east of England.

"There are arguments for and against, and the matter merits real study that decides the question based on balance and reality," he adds.

Ireland and Britain did switch to CET for a three-year period between 1968-1971, but the experiment was scrapped, mainly due to fierce opposition in Scotland, where some northern regions didn't experience 'dawn' until 10am.

Next December will be the ninth time in 20 years that campaigners have tabled a bill to switch Britain's clock to CET and this time around they are confident they have a real chance of success.

The Tories, including PM David Cameron, some Lib Dems, a large number of Labour MPs, business organisations, environmentalists and institutions such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, are enthusiastic, or at least open to the idea of change.

The National Farmers Union is also keeping an open mind, saying that deciding whether an extra hour's daylight would be more beneficial in the morning or the evening depends very much on the work pattern on each individual farm.

Irish Independent