Thursday, 23 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
10. Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he had any discussions with either his British counterpart or his European colleagues regarding the possibility of changing our time zone to European Time; his views on the benefits or disadvantages to Ireland if such a change was made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16623/11]
16. Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to conduct a cross Departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour all year round for Ireland; if his attention has been drawn to the passage of a Bill in the House of Commons undertaking a similar study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16624/11]
I am aware of the Bill to which the Deputy refers. The Daylight Saving Bill 2010/11 passed its second reading in the House of Commons on 3 December, 2010. I understand that, if it became law, this Private Members’ Bill would require the British Government to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year. I further understand that such analysis would include a breakdown, so far as possible, of the costs and benefits for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In light of this, I would expect that each of the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would ensure that their views and concerns would be fully reflected in any analysis that might be conducted.
Were this cost benefit analysis to be conducted, the Bill requires that an independent commission would be established to assess it. If that commission were to conclude that the advancing of time by one hour for all, or part of, the year would be beneficial to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland then an order bringing the commission’s recommendations into effect for a three-year trial period would need to be made. Given that European Union Directive 2000/84/EC results in all EU member states starting and ending summer time simultaneously in order that time differences between member states remain constant throughout the year, this would impose a limitation on the discretion available in this area.
At present Ireland and the United Kingdom operate in the same time zone. Each year summer time begins at 1:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, GMT, on the last Sunday in March when clocks are put forward one hour, and ends at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday in October when clocks are put back one hour. During summer time our clocks are set — I laugh because I expect the Ceann Comhairle to tell me I am out of time at any minute.
Deputy Alan Shatter: During summer time our clocks are set at GMT plus one hour and at GMT during winter time. Were clocks to be put forward for an hour for all of the year, clocks would be set at GMT — this is becoming far too technical. I will simply conclude——
This is not an issue on which we will make an untimely response and it is important that it be given further consideration but at this time I have no plans to change the time zone arrangements or to conduct the type of cross-departmental, cost-benefit analysis for advancing the time by one hour all year round in Ireland, such as is proposed in the UK.
Deputy Noel Harrington: I realise the country is dealing with many more difficult and challenging prospects but this one seemed timely, for two reasons. We just passed the summer solstice and Irish people love to talk about time and weather. It is not an exact science.
Deputy Noel Harrington: A person said to me recently that 21 June would be the longest day and, in the same breath, that Thursday would have the shortest night. The subject engages people. It can also be a serious issue in rural Ireland because it affects farming and other areas.
The Minister, rightly, stated the reasons it was appropriate to table the question were because of the study, and because the Bill in question has passed Second Stage in the House of Commons where it is being taken seriously. To keep the analogy going, we cannot afford to be out of time with our UK counterparts — we would be at a serious disadvantage. I do not expect this will be the case but expect that we would, as a nation, have some background work done. We should follow the legislative process in the UK in order not to be out of step.
Many studies have been carried out in the UK, by the Mayor of London and his office, the London Development Agency, transport agencies, the Policy Studies Institute of London, engineering and manufacturing departments at the University of Cambridge, the IPA——
Deputy Noel Harrington: Numerous advantages have been highlighted. I need not elaborate them because they are on the record and the Minister is following the matter very carefully. One aspect to consider is work practices in an increasingly global economy. Lunch hours are different in this country than in Europe, as are opening and closing hours for work.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I very much appreciate that this is a serious issue in the context of certain areas of business and of doing business with Europe and the United Kingdom. In advance of the second reading of the Bill, Mr. Edward Davey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, sought a meeting with our ambassador in London to discuss issues concerning daylight hours. The meeting took place in November 2010.
In February 2011 officials from my Department and our London embassy met the Bill’s sponsor, Ms Rebecca Harris, MP, in order to find out more about the background to her Bill as well as to register our interest in its passage and the potential implications for this country. Although there has been contact with the British authorities, no discussions have been held with our European colleagues on this matter as the matter is not at a sufficiently advanced stage.
In the context of our doing business with the United Kingdom and the relationship we have with that country, it is important to be on similar time zones. It would be a particularly unfortunate situation were we to find ourselves in a position where Northern Ireland was on one time zone and we were on a different one. This island is too small for that type of development. All I can say to the Deputy is that this is not an immediate priority — I do not want to pretend otherwise — in the context of the various major issues the Government must address. We will keep a watchful eye on developments in the United Kingdom. We are very conscious of the implications for the State of what is being suggested there. We will try to ensure we are not lost in a timewarp at the end of the process.
Deputy Mick Wallace: I can inform the Minister that an extra hour of daylight in the evening in winter would be of huge benefit to productivity in the construction industry. It is a real problem for us when it gets dark at 4.30 p.m. or 5 p.m. rather than 6 p.m. It has a huge impact on the construction industry. Given that it can take an hour and a half to set up for the day, it can be a real bummer when one has to stop working early. We are often told that one of the main reasons for putting the clocks back in October is to ensure kids do not have to go to school when it is still dark on winter mornings. Irish children tend to start school between 9 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. each day, which is later than in continental Europe. We should bear in mind that primary and secondary schools in Italy open at 8 a.m. each day. Children there deal with the darkness in winter without getting run over on their way to school.
Deputy David Stanton: I have been interested in this issue for some time. Is the Minister aware that the United States has extended summer time by a number of weeks into both the spring and autumn? Does he have any plans to raise this matter at EU level?
Deputy Noel Harrington: The Minister has said there are no plans to conduct a cross-departmental analysis. Is there any chance he might seek submissions from the public and relevant organisations to get the views of the nation on this matter?
Deputy Alan Shatter: I will give some thought to Deputy Harrington’s interesting suggestion. It would be interesting to get the views of the general public on this issue. We might consider establishing a process within which that could be done. I assure Deputy Stanton that I am aware of the change effected in the United States. I understand people are very happy with it. I put it to Deputy Wallace, in the light of his remarks about the construction industry, that the State might have been better off in recent years if there had been more darkness. If we had reflected what happens in one or two other parts of the world, where there is very little light during the winter months, we might have contained the hyperactive nature of the construction industry and the disaster brought to this country.
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