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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
# the explainer
Is your head being melted by this EU daylight savings debate? We're here to help
Why does Europe want to scrap seasonal clock changes? Will Ireland have to?

THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT voted this week in favour of abolishing seasonal time changes. 

Summertime arrangements in the EU require clocks to be changed twice per year to cater for the changing patterns of daylight and to take advantage of the available light.

If this planned change goes through, that will no longer happen and Europe will stick with the same time all year round. 

We’re taking a deep dive into this subject in the latest edition of our The Explainer podcast - tackling all the pertinent questions like: When will this change kick in? Will Ireland be required to go along with any EU decision? 

What happened this week?

The debate on this decision progressed to the full EU Parliament this week, with 410 MEPs voting in favour of the move and 192 voting against. 

It means that in 2021 we could put our clocks forward, as we’re used to, at the end of March, but then stick with that time into the future without switching back in October. 

Ireland and other member states are being given a period of 12 months to decide if they’ll stay on summertime or not.

The matter has already been put out to public consultation in Ireland, with Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan saying he is open to the idea of scrapping clock changes.

He did note, however, that once the UK leaves the EU that it could mean different time zones on the island of Ireland, depending on the changes made. 

shutterstock_565492585 Shutterstock / KenosisDre Shutterstock / KenosisDre / KenosisDre

What are the arguments in favour? 

An EU consultation on scrapping the seasonal clock changes, completed last summer, found that 84% of respondents supported the move. 

The top reasons for abolishing the switch were the health benefits of doing away with the twice-yearly time shift, energy savings and allowing more time for evening leisure activities. 

What would happen? 

One option, summertime, would mean brighter evenings – that is, brighter than in the current system, all year. The other would mean brighter mornings.

Essentially the two options are:

  • If we choose summer time – the time we’ve just switched over to this month – it would mean brighter evenings, with darker mornings in the winter than we currently experience.
  • If we choose winter time – the time we just switched from – it would mean brighter mornings, with darker evenings in the summer than we currently experience.

At the height of summer the distinction doesn’t really matter that much, it’s more about what would be more beneficial in the depths of winter.

Looking at Dublin, the contrast is stark. If we stuck with wintertime all year then sunrise in Dublin on 20 December would be at 8.37am (as we’re used to, currently) with sunset shortly after 4pm.

If we went with summertime all year round the sun wouldn’t come up until 9.37am on 20 December but we’d have brighter conditions in the evening, with sunset at 5.07pm. 


Summertime or wintertime? 

The benefits of summertime all year round are obvious – it would give people travelling to school and work brighter conditions in the evening at a time of the year when daylight is at a premium. 

“I’d much prefer to see a brighter evening because you’re more likely to be actually doing fieldwork in the afternoon and would need an extra bit of light. The brighter evening makes more practical sense from a farmer point of view,” Cork Central chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association Harold Kingston told us.  

However sleep expert Dr Annie Curtis of the RCSI cautioned that from a health point of view, permanent wintertime would be preferable. 

The later sunrise in the winter, she said, would give us “a serious amount of jet lag, body clock disruption – because one of the things that our body clock needs is sunlight in the morning”. 

What about the UK? 

Complicating all of this is the fact that the UK has no great desire to shift the way it observes time. As you may have heard, it’s planning to leave the EU – so any directive would not apply, and as a result Ireland may be left out of kilter with the North and the rest of the UK for half the year. 

This, of course, throws up a range of potential complications for communities, farms, businesses and transport operators in the border region and beyond. 

It could also impose yet another kind of border between the two jurisdictions on the island. 

Leo Varadkar said in the Dáil this week that it would be the view of the House that it wouldn’t want Northern Ireland to be in a different time zone. 

The latest official word on this from Britain came from business minister Kelly Tolhurst, who told a committee last November that the government there had “no plans to change daylight saving time”. 

Tolhurst also made the point that a whopping 70% of respondents to that EU consultation on the subject, mentioned earlier, were from Germany. 

She said ministers were “actively working to convince other member states to block the proposal”.

It’s a safe bet that, outside of Brexit, those lobbying efforts will continue – but, of course, the UK won’t get a vote on this so powers like Germany and France will have more of a say. 

shutterstock_92763880 Shutterstock / Steve Collender Shutterstock / Steve Collender / Steve Collender

Will an EU decision be binding? 

So the EU Parliament has had its say, but this will still have to be agreed by EU governments: from 28 members if the UK remains in the EU, 27 in the more likely event that it does not.

The final decision will be made on the basis of what’s called Qualified Majority Voting. That means that if 55% of countries representing at least 65% of the population of the EU want this to happen – even if the remaining countries vote against – we’ll all have to go along with it.

In the event that the UK decided not to change and that led to huge opposition to the proposed new system in Ireland, there are a few mechanisms we could pursue to challenge the EU decision but the chance of success appears slim.

Hopefully the above served as a primer on this debate – for lots more, including further contributions from Adjunct Professor of Economics at TCD Dr John Fitzgerald and Fine Gael MEP for Ireland South Deirdre Clune – check out the latest edition of The Explainer here

The Explainer / SoundCloud

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