Thursday, 16 May 2019

Questions (10)

Thomas P. Broughan


10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the preparations his Department is making to prepare for the EU's harmonisation of daylight saving time in March and October 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20941/19]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Justice)

On 28 March, MEPs voted to cease the seasonal clock changes with effect from April 2021. I understand that the vote was two to one in favour. The last mandatory clock change took place on 31 March last. The Minister will be aware there has been interest among Members of this House in the matter for a long time. His colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, the late Senator, Feargal Quinn, and I pursued various initiatives to try to retain summer time indefinitely. I introduced a Private Members' Bill which a predecessor of the Minister's, the former Deputy Alan Shatter, addressed and which was on the clár of the previous Dáil throughout its lifetime.

I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this issue. The proposal from the European Commission would end seasonal clock changes with effect from 2021, with each member state electing whether to remain on summer or winter time all year round. This proposal remains under discussion and has yet to be adopted.

In this regard, discussions with members states on this proposal are ongoing via the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy, TTE, Council and the next meeting of the council is scheduled for June.

A number of member states, including Ireland, are conducting national consultation exercises to inform their position. Ireland is also among those member states which have argued that more time is required to properly consider this proposal and its implications for our people. All member states have identified a requirement for co-ordination with neighbouring countries. This is a particular consideration for us in the context of our nearest neighbour, the UK, and on the island of Ireland, with reference to Northern Ireland.

An interdepartmental steering group was established by my Department to consider the proposal, to guide a public consultation process and report to Government. The public consultation comprised a public survey and invitation of submissions from individuals and stakeholders across the country. The Department also commissioned an opinion poll of a sample of respondents aligned with the national population.

A detailed analysis of the responses has been carried out and I will bring a report to Government shortly to assist in formulating the Irish position on the proposal. Clearly, the implications for time zones on the island will be a key consideration in our approach to this issue.

I agree with the Minister that it would be impossible to have different time zones in the Republic and Northern Ireland. The Minister will be aware there was a powerful Lighter Later movement in the UK for most of this century to retain summer time and return to what prevailed in the era prior to the First World War. There was overwhelming support in surveys undertaken by the European Union which showed 84% in favour. Our survey showed 88% in favour. I made a submission to the ongoing consultation. I made a strong arguments for this proposal on the basis of health in terms of the seasonal affective disorder, SAD, or winter blues complex from which many people suffer, that our roads would be safer by retaining summer time, that there would be a reduction in the incidence of crime which occurs particularly during the long dark evenings, the benefits that would accrue to our tourism and hospitality industry and the fact, for example, that St. Patrick's Day falls in winter time, and a range of other strong arguments. I accept that harmonisation is a key point. Clearly, if our main European partners - particularly if Brexit happens - were to adopt the European Parliament's approach, we would have to be prepared.

I acknowledge once again the Deputy's interest in this issue over a number for years. I want to make one point clear. Ireland is one among of a number of member states that have argued strongly that more time is required to properly consider the proposal. Contrary to media reports, to date, we have not formally supported the proposal that has been put forward. A particular consideration for Ireland is that the proposal raises the possibility of different time zones on the island of Ireland. This is a concern that is borne out in the responses we have received to the consultation process. As far as consultation exercises are concerned, more than 16,000 responses have been received to my invitation for people to make their views known. A broad preliminary conclusion indicates support for discontinuing the practice of clock changes and a preference for summer time but real concern at the prospect of two time zones on the island of Ireland. Many of the detailed submissions expressed concern at the practical or the logistical implications of ending seasonal time changes and the inconclusive evidence surrounding the proposed benefits of the proposal. The matter is under discussion and I welcome the Deputy's input.

I agree with the Minister that it would be a significant development if it were to proceed.

The debate on the Brighter Evenings Bill which I brought forward was taken by the Minister's predecessor, former Deputy Shatter. A clear issue was how we would protect our school children on darker mornings and so on. It is interesting that the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, when he was Chair of the justice committee, held extensive discussions on this matter. Many who participated in the discussions were of the opinion that if we could not have full summer time, we should make winter time far shorter such that, at least, the period of winter time post Christmas would be no longer than that pre Christmas. Again, harmonisation would be required and countries would have to act together. In general and on balance, most people believe it would enhance our lives. We were delighted that the European Parliament felt the same way.

It is important to acknowledge that there is a wide range of opinions on the merits of ending seasonal clock changes. There are some school students in the Public Gallery. I am sure that if we were to ask their opinion, we would get a wide and diverse range of responses.

In Scandinavia, children go to school later in the day.

This issue may form part of school projects. I would be very happy to engage or receive proposals in that regard.

There is a large measure of uncertainty around the question of harmonisation between adjoining countries. I refer specifically to the issue of whether our UK neighbours will remain in the European Union, which provides us with a real challenge in regard to the island of Ireland which will certainly inform our decision-making process.

Sula bogfaimid ar aghaidh, thug an tAire cuireadh do na daltaí atá anseo linn inniu moltaí a chur chuige. Má tá moltaí ar bith ná tuairimí acu maidir leis an athrú ama i rith an gheimhridh, ba chóir dóibh iad a chur ag an Aire, Teachta Flanagan. The Donegal dialect may be different from the Irish the students are used to. The Minister extended an invitation to them and stated that he would be very glad to take their proposals regarding daylight saving time into consideration.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.