Opinion: possible changes around the use of daylight saving time means Ireland has some interesting choices to make about our time zone
Last summer, the European Commission held a public consultation on the use of daylight saving time within the EU. Since 1996, the EU has been co-ordinating the switch from winter to summer time and back across the EU to simplify cross-border schedules and timetables.The EU has regularly reviewed these arrangements since they were introduced.
The outcome of the public consultation was that the daylight saving arrangements are not that popular, at least among those surveyed. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested that the EU should give up on daylight saving and keep summer time all year, though the choice of adopting all-year summer time or all-year winter time would be up to individual countries.
This leaves Ireland with some interesting choices about what to do with our time zone. Like most choices, there will be a trade-off. We must remember that changing our clocks does not change how much daylight we get. Summer time gives more hours of brightness in the evening in exchange for darker mornings.
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All-year summer time was tested in Ireland (and the UK) from 1969 to 1971, but it did not work so well. One obvious problem was schoolchildren had to get out of bed and walk to school before the sun rose. With all-year summer time, sunrise in Dublin would be after 9.30am for a whole month in the winter. For Sligo, sunrise would be after 9.30am for almost all of December and January.
Dark mornings also caused industrial tensions, with outdoor workers arriving in the dark when it was too early to start their work. There are also other questions, such as the clearing of frost in the morning which can depend on the sun being up. Of course, one could reschedule schools, colleges, work and meetings to start later in the winter to avoid dark mornings, but this rather misses the point of daylight savings.
Another possibility is that Ireland could choose all-year winter time. We already know how this works in the winter months, but what impact would it have on the summer months? Well, because of our northerly location, Ireland already has long evenings in the summer. We would still get our famous grand stretch in the evening, but they would not be quite so long.
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There is one other way in which we might lose out. Currently we are just one hour different from much of the EU but, if most of the EU chooses all-year summer time and we choose all-year winter time, then there will be a two hour difference between Ireland and the rest of the EU. This will not impact all citizens, though those who work with customers or colleagues on the continent will have to get up even earlier.
Interestingly, one of the important factors cited in favour of abandoning daylight savings is health issues. Changing the clock is disruptive to our sleep and therefore our health. In choosing between all-year summer time and all-year wintertime, it may be worth also considering health issues. People who study circadian rhythms and chronobiology generally believe that daylight is more beneficial when we get out of bed, rather than in the evening. There are even studies indicating increased cancer rates among those in the western end of timezones, where the sun rises later. This suggests that all-year winter time might be preferable for Ireland from a health point of view.
This meant a one hour difference across the border and droll letters to newspapers about how you could travel from Newry to Dundalk and arrive before you left
But there is another factor. As we know, our nearest neighbour will be leaving the EU in March 2019 and initial indications are that the UK will continue to use daylight savings time. If Ireland opts for either all-year summer time or all-year winter time, we will have two time zones on our island for six months of the year.
This is an experiment that has also been conducted before. During the second World War/Emergency, the UK used double summer time, but Ireland did not. This meant there was a one hour difference across the border, resulting in droll letters to the newspapers about how you could travel from Newry to Dundalk and arrive before you left. To avoid a similar situation, we could choose to keep daylight savings time.
Our lives are now filled with devices like phones, tablets and computers that automatically adjust themselves for daylight savings. Other equipment, such as broadcast and telecoms systems, use radio signals from the UK, Germany and satellites to synchronise their clocks. All these devices will need to be updated so that they know what the new arrangements are. Based on the experiences of other countries that have made time zone changes recently, this is not something that should be rushed into.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ