Time for change … change the time that is

Seán Barrett TD, chair of the Oireachtas committee on climate change, proposed in a press release on Wednesday that Irish Summer Time be retained year-round:

Brighter evenings in the winter would significantly reduce peak electricity demands, saving hundreds of thousands of CO2 emissions, equivalent to removing many thousands of motor vehicles from the roads.

He runs through the usual arguments in favour of lighter evenings, although he gets a little mixed up at one point:

There is no coherent reason why we should not synchronise our time with Europe in the interests of increased economic activity.

What he is proposing is not synchronisation with “Europe” (which has multiple time zones for a start), but would create a novel Irish time zone which would align with that of France and Germany (Central European Time) for just five months of the year. While most countries in Europe would continue to change their clocks forwards and backwards, Ireland would remain a constant rock in the surrounding tide.

Of course, any such time zone would stop at the Border, and local residents would certainly be displeased about yet another arbitrary dividing line being drawn across the land. But there would equally be an outcry if NI were to have a different time from London for five months of the year. It would appear that the only politically uncontroversial way for the Republic to change time zones would be as part of a co-ordinated effort with the UK.

Luckily, there are quite a few voices saying similar things in London. Veteran time zone campaigner Tim Yeo MP appeared on Newsnight on Monday (H/T @athtrasna) to argue a similar case – although his proposal envisions a uniform one-hour shift to CET/CST, a system often known as Single/Double Summer Time. This was used in the UK between 1940-45 and again in 1947, during which time Ireland used Barrett’s favoured year-round summer time, the only period since 1916 that Dublin and London failed to synchronise clocks. A later experiment with year-round summer time in 1968-71 was a joint project which was abandoned due to unpopularity in northern parts of the UK, but the National Farmers’ Union in Scotland has reportedly softened its opposition to revisiting the proposal in recent years. Another three-year experiment may be on its way soon.

Daylight saving time is almost universal in Europe with the sole exception of Iceland, despite daylight saving being invented specifically to offset the effects of northern latitudes. Although it lies far enough west in the Atlantic to justify using GMT-1, Iceland runs on GMT all year round, with the same net effect as Barrett’s proposal. Perhaps when a country is so far north that the sun barely rises at all in December, it isn’t all that important what time of day it happens.

The only European country to change its time zone in recent years was Portugal, which ran on CET/CST for a few years in the 1990s but reverted to Western European Time after public complaints. Some of these objections raise a smile, for example (from Hansard):

It caused particular inconvenience through its impact on schoolchildren, which became a big issue in Portugal. The change had a very disturbing effect on children’s sleeping habits as it would not get dark until 10 or 10.30 in the evening. It was difficult for children to go to bed early enough to have sufficient sleep.

In Galway this week it hasn’t been getting dark until nearly midnight. But perhaps sleep cycles owe a lot to culture and ingrained habit and can’t be easily unlearned. Western Australia has been trying, and failing, to introduce summer daylight saving for decades (from United Press):

Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett said he had voted for daylight savings but predicted before the count that his side would lose.

“It’s a very clear result,” Barnett told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “West Australians don’t like daylight saving. We’ve just got to accept the reality, West Australians don’t like daylight saving and we simply won’t have daylight saving.”

The issue pits business owners, who support daylight savings in the summer, against farmers, who oppose it. The state tried a trial period, ending March 30.

Those crazy farmers again.


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