I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I thought we were going to be here until dark. The Brighter Evenings Bill 2012 has two main components. Section 2 requires the Minister for Justice and Equality to prepare and publish a report of an independent group of stakeholders addressing the costs and benefits of advancing the clocks by one hour in order that there would be brighter evenings throughout the year in Ireland. It would also mean that Ireland would be on the same time as the central European time zone. Section 3 allows the Minister to provide for the advancing of clocks in Ireland by one hour for a three year trial period under a daylight saving order. The three year experiment would adopt the single-double summer time model, which would mean that we would be an hour ahead of Greenwich mean time, GMT+1, in winter and two hours ahead, GMT+2, in summer.
Like many other citizens, I have always found the turning back of the clocks in late October to be a depressing experience. It adds another gloomy layer to the onset of winter. I raised this issue several times in my earlier years in Dáil Éireann and more recently in November 2010 with former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern.
I thank colleagues, including the Minister, Deputy Shatter, who have attended the House for this debate today, in particular those who hold a similar point of view, including Deputy David Stanton who has brought forward a number of initiatives in this regard over the past 20 years and, outside of this House, Senator Feargal Quinn who has also advocated that we move to year round summer time.
I believe that bringing our clocks forward by one hour would have a number of very positive effects for our people, including improvements in road safety, a further reduction in road deaths, improved general well-being and mental health benefits, cost savings in terms of less energy usage, improved opportunities in the tourism sector, increased evening light for our citizens to have more recreation time and, importantly, a reduction in crime.
One of the principal effects of advancing the clocks by one hour would be that we would have brighter evenings for longer, even in the winter time. In current winter time we move from light into darkness at work and school from early and mid-afternoon. If we were to change to central European time, we would move from a short period of early morning darkness into a longer, brighter working and leisure day throughout the year. As Professor Brian Cox repeatedly states, members of the human race are children of the light. A move from darkness into light has never been so badly needed, both literally and metaphorically, for our hard pressed citizens than at present.
Before the middle of the 19th century, every region set its own clocks and Greenwich mean time, GMT, was originally developed by mariners to calculate their longitude. By the middle of the 19th century, GMT was being used to standardise time across the British railway system. It is interesting to note that Ireland and Britain operated under different time zones between 1880 and 1916.
The American scientist and revolutionary, the great Benjamin Franklin, was the father of the concept of daylight saving. The idea to put the clocks forward in summer time was developed by a prominent English builder, William Willett, who campaigned for the change in the late 19th century. The British Parliament passed the Summer Time Act in 1915 in the midst of the First World War to try to take advantage of daylight saving. While daylight saving was also used during the Second World War, the clocks returned to the previous model of GMT plus one hour in summer and GMT in winter after the war ended.
A European directive of 2000 sought to have all European countries standardise their time. It provides that summer time begins in every member state at 1 a.m. Greenwich mean time in the last Sunday in March and summer time ends at 1 a.m. GMT in the last Sunday in October. The central European time zone currently counts 17 EU member states.
In the 1960s, a British Labour Party Government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson decided to test support for a system of summer time throughout the year. Not many people, even those who were teenagers at the time, remember this experiment, which lasted from 1968 to 1971. A White Paper produced by the UK Government in 1970 concluded it was impossible to accurately quantify the costs and benefits of what was known as British standard time and stated a final decision would have to be based on qualitative factors. The many positive effects of BST included a finding in research carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory of the UK Department of Transport that the number of road fatalities had declined by 230 over the winter period when British standard time was in place.
Section 2(1) of the Bill requires the Minister for Justice and Equality to make arrangements for the preparation and publication of a report by an independent group of stakeholders. Section 2(3) provides that the independent group will consist of stakeholders from the Economic and Social Research Institute; Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Health, Education and Skills and Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Met Éireann; Road Safety Authority; Irish Farmers Association; Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association; and other relevant non-governmental organisations. Section 2(2) provides that the Minister would have regard to the different interests of persons in Northern Ireland in preparing the independent report. It states categorically that any studies done on this issue would be submitted to our sister Parliament in Belfast.
Section 3 refers to having a trial period of advancing the clocks in Ireland by one hour for three years by means of a daylight saving order, as defined in section 1. Section 1 further defines "advancing the clocks in Ireland by one hour" as meaning two hours in advance of Greenwich mean time during the period of summer time and one hour in advance of Greenwich mean time during winter time. Such a change would bring Ireland into line with the central European time zone.
Section 3(2) provides that the order would facilitate a three year experiment in adopting the single-double summer time model. In practice, this would mean not putting the clocks back by one hour in October of the first year and putting them forward by one hour the following March.
Section 3(3) provides that the draft daylight saving order would be put before the Houses of the Oireachtas - perhaps we will have only one Chamber by that stage - before being passed. Section 3(4) obligates the Minister to monitor the effect of the daylight saving order, while section 3(5) requires the Minister to decide on whether to continue with central European time permanently.
Advancing the clocks by one hour would have significant health benefits. According to the Health Service Executive, seasonal affective disorder, SAD, which is also known as the "winter blues" is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern. The condition is estimated to affect 7% of the population or 50,000 of our fellow citizens and as many as 2 million people in Britain. According to the UK national health service, SAD affects more than 12 million people across northern Europe. Clearly, therefore, the onset of dark evenings has a negative effect on the human psyche. The NHS notes that although the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, it is thought to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during shorter days of the year. A discussion paper produced by the economics department of Central Michigan University links reduced sunlight to increased suicide rates, although it cautions that more research is required on the issue.
An increased number of daylight hours with brighter evenings would have a significant impact on the ability of citizens to engage in recreation activities, including walking, running, cycling and team sports. Lighter Later, a UK group which has campaigned for advancing the clocks by one hour in Britain, argues that longer, brighter evenings would enhance opportunities for people of all ages to get out and about and exercise. This is especially important given that obesity has reached an epidemic level. Researchers at University College Cork have found that Ireland's northerly latitude means we have one of the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency in the industrialised world.
Longer brighter evenings would deliver improvements in road safety outcomes. The Road Safety Authority's statistics on road deaths show that the early evening, from approximately 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., is the most dangerous time for road deaths. In 2012, for example, the hours between 4 p.m and 6 p.m. were the most dangerous for road users and 41 deaths or 25% of total road accident fatalities occurred during this period. In 2011, the hours between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. were the most dangerous, with 39 road accident fatalities or 21% of the total recorded in this period. The hours between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. were also the most dangerous in 2009 and 2010. The number of road deaths was found to have increased on evenings where darkness fell earlier.
I consulted Mr. Noel Brett, the chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, on the Bill and, having read the text, he provided my office with research carried out by the RSA in November 2012 under the title, The Effect of Hour Changes during Summer/Winter Time on the Incidence of Road Traffic Collisions. RSA staff found, from an examination of road collision data for one week periods either side of the change to and from summer time, that the start of summer time in March was associated with reductions in casualty numbers of nearly 5% in the morning and 7% in the evening. Furthermore, the research found the return to winter time in October resulted in almost 8% more road traffic fatalities in the hours around sunrise and 42% more casualties in the darker evenings. The latter is an astonishing figure. The research paper noted that road collision data are subject to other factors such as weather conditions and traffic volumes. Mr. Brett has stated that an independent report would be required before the Bill proceeds to implementation. He also argues that any move to central European time be done jointly with Northern Ireland.
Other road safety organisations, for example, Promoting Awareness, Responsibility and Care on our Roads, PARC, have expressed support for the Bill. In the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has estimated that at least 80 lives would be saved on the roads each year if we moved to daylight saving time.
Opposition has been expressed against a move to advancing the clocks by one hour on the basis that it could pose a danger for schoolchildren as mornings would be darker for longer. After the trial period of retaining summer time throughout the year in the period from 1968 to 1971 in Britain and Ireland, it was decided to return to GMT because of reported increases in road deaths among school-going children, even though there was a decrease overall in the number of casualties on the roads during the period in question. It was noted in the debate on daylight saving before the joint Oireachtas committee in November 2011 that during winter time in Scandinavia, the working day starts a half hour or an hour later than during summer time. This option should be explored to ensure our children are safe.
Longer evenings should have a measurable effect in reducing crime levels. As we know, there is a higher likelihood of crimes, particularly assaults and sexual offences, being committed during the hours of darkness. Many older people and vulnerable citizens find that darker evenings, especially during winter, pose a difficulty for them leaving home, for example, to run an errand in isolated areas. In recent years, the period leading up to Hallowe'en has been characterised by mayhem in many housing estates, with miscreants tormenting and upsetting communities and neighbourhoods. I have always found it astonishing that the clocks go back at this very time and that it coincides with the school mid-term break. This does not make sense.
Between 1990 and 2008, energy consumption increased dramatically. Ireland has significant commitments at international level to reduce emissions and efforts in this regard are ongoing. This Bill would deliver positive benefits in this respect. The Lighter Later campaign in the UK has estimated that changing to central European time would cut carbon emissions by at least 447,000 tonnes per annum. Other estimates put the figure much higher. In the UK, it has been estimated that advancing the clocks by one hour would create between 60,000 and 80,000 new jobs in the leisure and tourism sector, the fifth largest industry in Britain. A paper published by the Policy Studies Institute in 2008 under the title, The Likely Impact on Tourist Activity in the UK of the Adoption of Daylight Saving, features a positive cost-benefit analysis of this proposal.
Our tourism and hospitality industry employs approximately 180,000 people. It is a €5 billion a year industry, which is equivalent to 4% of GNP. There has been an increase in the number of overseas visitors according to recent quarterly reports published by the CSO. An extra hour of daylight in the evening would be of huge benefit to them and to Irish people when as tourists they enjoy their beautiful country in November, December, January and February. Of course, the St. Patrick's Day festival takes place on a day when darkness falls at approximately 6.30 p.m. With a brighter evening, it could go on until 7.30 p.m. to 7.45 p.m. While there would be a period in mid-winter when it would be dark until 9.40 a.m., in mid-summer one would have light until midnight. In February and March and November and December, the shortest day would end at 5.10 p.m. That would be the benefit.
There would also be benefits to the wider economy in advancing the clocks forward by one hour. At a sitting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to consider whether Ireland should introduce daylight saving, Irish Small and Medium Enterprises, or ISME, was supportive of the measure. ISME's representative, Mr. Jim Curran, said an extra hour of daylight in the evening would benefit greatly the huge retail sector, especially in winter time, by encouraging people to get out shopping and stay out longer. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation also expressed its support at the committee. The Department's representative, Mr. Gerry Wrynn, said there would be obvious benefits for Ireland to have its time in line with those countries in the central European time zone to which 45% of Irish exports go. We are four hours out of kilter with the bulk of the European Union. They start an hour ahead of us, we have lunch at different times and they go home an hour before us. We have four hours when we are relaxing and they are working. We would gain, in effect, four hours for business, which would be very positive.
There has been opposition to daylight saving in the past from our most important industry, agriculture and food. I consulted the Irish Farmers Association, which said that while the hour in the morning would be beneficial, it might have little impact due to modern technology and lighting. The IFA also advised that we would need to move together with the UK and would prefer if we worked through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. In the UK, however, the National Farmers Union in Britain and representatives of Scottish farmers have indicated that they have become neutral on the matter. I also contacted the Construction Industry Federation, which represents an industry I know well, An Post and other services during the preparation of this Bill and I await their detailed responses. That is one reason I hope the Minister will proceed with the Bill. It would facilitate the provision of responses from those interested parties.
Times, work practices and attitudes to year round summer time have changed since the early 1970s. On the grounds of enhanced general health, recreation benefits, improved road safety, lower energy use and costs and overall business and economic benefits, the Bill should receive serious consideration by the Government. I urge Deputies to support the passage of the Bill. I thank my friends and colleagues in the Labour Party, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and those Independent Members who have attended to discuss the Bill and lend some support. I appeal to the Minister not to oppose the Bill on Second Stage as the benefits of advancing our clocks forward by one hour far outweigh the drawbacks. The Minister will remember that he introduced perhaps the most famous Private Members' Bill in the House, which was on judicial separation. He might consider another Private Members' Bill this morning.