I welcome the Minister back to the House. Senator Quinn has 12 minutes.
Adoption of Central European Time: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann, conscious of the considerable potential benefits to business, tourism, road safety and the quality of life in Ireland; conscious of the desirability of taking decisions independent of domestic considerations in the United Kingdom; calls on the Government to adopt Central European Time for this country as soon as practicable, and in any case not later than 24 September 1995.
I welcome the Minister to the House. This is not the first occasion this matter has been discussed in the Seanad; I raised it last October. I will cover some of the ground gone over in the past but I will make new points also. I have pleasure in proposing this motion and I hope the Government will move forward on this important subject, rather than the stonewalling we have seen in the past.
I propose that we drop British time and adopt Central European Time; in practical terms this means putting our clocks forward by one hour. At the end of the summer when other European countries go back to winter time, we would not change our clocks. We would then be on Central European Time. At the beginning of the following summer we would put our clocks forward along with the other countries and put them back at the end of the summer.
I would like to see that happen this year. However, since airline timetables and similar schedules are fixed well in advance, it might be more practical to do so at the end of summer in 1995. There is no reason why it could not be done then and that is why the specific date in 1995 is mentioned in the motion. To remove the deadline and merely ask the Government to think about the issue, as is suggested in the amendment, is to emasculate the motion and to dodge the issue entirely. We should make this change because it would bring great benefits and not many disadvantages. The main benefits will be in four areas — business, tourism, road safety and, most importantly, quality of life.
In business, the big advantage is that we would be aligning our time with that of the vast majority of mainland members of the European Union. The countries on Central European Time include all our important continental European trading partners, including Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. I am not arguing for the harmonisation of European time, that all the EU must be in the same time zone. The United States is a single market which happily contains three time zones. I am arguing that we in Ireland are at a clear disadvantage by being an hour behind the vast majority of EU members.
We can fix this problem ourselves. It is not that we are out of step but that we are behind the rest of Europe. In the other countries people start work before us and our image is damaged because we cannot be reached on the telephone until the morning is half over. Anyone who does business with Europe knows how much time is wasted trying to catch people on the telephone. Irish people may not yet be in work; European workers may have gone to lunch; Europeans may be back from lunch but we may have gone for lunch; or they may have left for the evening while it is only mid-afternoon in Ireland.
Another problem for business people is travelling to Europe. The extra hour makes is difficult to do a day's business in Europe and return the same day; in the case of some cities it is impossible. What should be a one day trip becomes a two day trip, adding to the cost by involving an overnight stay and an extra day away from one's desk. We are on the edge of Europe and often speak of the associated problems. In this case we are making the problem worse. We cannot change our geography but we can change our clocks. It would significantly improve our competitiveness in the EU market, the main strategic target for increasing exports.
The business sector would not be the only people to benefit from this change; everyone would gain through tourism. The main problem for that sector is the short season for tourists. The main aim is to stretch the season on either side of the summer. Changing our time would help us to achieve that because it would lengthen the season at the two crucial points in spring and autumn.
In April it is bright at 6 a.m., which is not much use to the holiday visitor. If that daylight is transferred to the end of the day, there is a real bonus for visitors. People coming for short breaks on activity holidays such as golfing or fishing would have much more time to enjoy themselves. This would make April attractive for a holiday, whereas it is not at present. The same applies to an even greater extent in October. All through the year there would be a tourist advantage in stretching the evenings.
There would also be an advantage in road safety. Studies have shown that stretching daylight into the evenings would reduce the number of accidents. This reduction exceeds any increase that might result from darker mornings in the depths of winter. This means lives saved and injuries avoided. If we have the means to save even one life in this way we should take it.
The final area of benefit is the quality of life in Ireland. Everyone knows what happens when the hour is added in spring, as it was a few weeks ago. People can work in their gardens after returning from work — most people would regard that as an advantage, although some would not; children can play together outside after tea; and sports teams can train in the evenings. The coming of summer time means people can enjoy leisure time every evening of the week. Changing to Central European Time would give us an extra month at each end of the summer in which people would be able to be outside in the evenings. Longer evenings would be a benefit all through the year, although the benefits would be felt most in spring and autumn.
There are many other advantages. There will be less crime, less danger on our streets, and more energy savings for every home in the country. Why have we not made the change up to now? I raised this matter last October and it was clear from the Minister of State's reply that Government policy is based on one cardinal principle — whatever Britain does we do also.
In 1971 the British conducted an experiment of this kind and, like poodles, we followed suit. The British then made a monumental good. It drew the wrong conclusions from statistics on road accidents and caved in to the most vocal opponents of this change. They returned to the old system and, surprisingly, so did the poodles on this side of the water. We huffed and puffed in order to find a fig leaf of respectability for that decision. The reason was that the Department of Justice was incapable of imagining Ireland in a different time zone to Britain. The policy appears to be that when Britain moves, we move and if Britain does not move, we will not do so.
In Britain opinion is growing that it made a horse's collar of that decision — a strong lobby is making that charge. Part of the present British Government's legislative programme in the last election was to make that change in its lifetime. It seems that Government does not want to give any hostages to fortune to the Euro sceptics in its party so that idea has been shelved. Where does that leave us? It means that if we continue with the present policy of "follow thy neighbour", we will deny ourselves many benefits because the British Prime Minister has difficulty with the lunatic fringe of his party.
That is not fair, it only happens in Fianna Fáil.
That is not an acceptable basis for policy making in an independent state. I am ashamed that we are behaving in this way. The public will find such an approach unacceptable and unworthy of a sovereign Government.
There is no reason why we should keep our time in step with Britain. Britain is our main trading partner, but we would not be disadvantaged if we were one hour ahead. I believe it would be an advantage and it is in our hands to do something in this regard. The difficulty with Europe is that we are one hour behind, rather than out of step. If we were one hour ahead, it would be a different matter. The change proposed in this motion would put us one hour ahead of Britain. I am not the only one to see a commercial advantage in that.
No doubt someone will ask about the North. This was not a problem in the 1940s when I was young and Eamon Dé Valera was in power and it should not be a problem for us in the 1990s. We had double Summer Time south of the Border, while single Summer Time was in operation north of the Border. There was a time difference between Newry and Dundalk. If this was not a problem in the 1940s, it is only red herring now.
The lazy argument that we must follow Britain rightly or wrongly has no rational foundation. It is time to show that we have grown up and we can take a step out of the nursery even if we do so without holding nanny's hand. Some 20 years later we are closer to Europe and less dependent on our neighbour. Over ten years ago we had the courage to break the link with sterling. Will we now have the courage to take a smaller and less expensive step, but one which will present us with huge benefits? I hope we will, because the net benefit of making this change is enormous. Carpe diem, we should grab the opportunity; it is time to take action and accept this motion.
I second the motion. I raised this issue in the past when the Order for summer time came before the House. The two areas incompatibility with Europe are time and the side of the road on which we drive. We are losing out in regard to time. The issue is not the time difference, which does cause problems, but the fact that we are behind rather than ahead. If we were one hour ahead, it would change matters considerably in terms of marketing and sales abroad. Less than one-third of our export market is with Britain, while over one-third is with continental Europe. Often our competitors in the European market operate from the UK and, therefore, it would be useful for business if we were one hour ahead.
This issue not only concerns manufacturing and business but also general communication throughout the European Union. Those working in Brussels will be in their offices until ten o'clock before anyone is in an office in Dublin. They will then have one hour from ten to 11 before people go on coffee breaks. This continues throughout the day. For three hours of the day there is no contact between Ireland and Europe if people are working normal office hours. During lunch time, and particularly late in the afternoon, it is impossible to make contact because European offices are closed. It is like an obstacle race trying to make and return calls to Europe.
Other problems arise when trying to do business in Europe. The 7.30 a.m. flight from Dublin to Paris does not arrive there until 10.30 a.m. and business may not be done for another 45 minutes. One must therefore travel the night before. There is a slight advantage in that one may return to one's office by mid afternoon, although it is not a sufficient gain.
The proposal contained in this motion will make life safer, healthier and brighter. These three words reflect our intention. At one time I had reservations about this because of road safety in regard to children going to school in the morning. I support the point made by Senator Quinn that the evidence presented ten years ago, when I first raised this issue, was incorrect. Evidence suggests that problems are not created on dark mornings but on dark evenings. That was the only reticence I had in regard to this proposal. As a teacher, the Minister will appreciate that in the morning there is an openness and a readiness to learn.
The Government amendment to the motion is buying time. However, it will be welcome if the Minister decides to move in this direction. It is a mistake to try to push this off the agenda for another year. I have not heard a case made against this change to Central European Time, although some people have said it may be awkward and it could cause problems.
In relation to what Senator Quinn said about tourism, this not only affects the beginning and the end of the season. Anyone who has holidayed on the Continent, particularly in August, where south of Paris or in Spain it is dark very early, knows that many Continental people go to places with long evenings at that time of the year. Long evenings increase road safety, reduce crime, because crime and darkness go together, and also create more space and time for outdoor pursuits such as hobbies, sport or general activities. Although I have not got evidence to prove it, I believe it also saves energy. People have to get up in the morning, but huge amounts of electricity are used when making dinner in the evening and there are many appliances which tend to be used more after tea than in the early morning. I concede that I do not have evidence on that point but I have raised the question and hope to have it answered at some time in the future.
The proposal is that we change the time regime to something that would be safer, healthier and brighter, whether it be due to safer roads, less crime or the possibility of saving energy. It would also give Irish industry the edge when competing with the UK for business in Europe. I do not understand why we do not move forward. There may be some element of this that creates a difficulty but it is one of those proposals which is just lying there because nobody is pushing for a decision on it. It is not being seriously considered. In The Economist magazine about six months ago a strong case was made in favour of the UK moving towards Central European Time.
The Government and the Minister should grasp the nettle on this one or seize the day, as Senator Quinn said, and move forward. I also compliment Senator Quinn on correctly defining hames as being a horse's collar. Its correct definition is rarely used. The current scenario is unacceptable and the proposal has some attractiveness. Anything that gets us going earlier in the morning is to be recommended. I have been saying for years that schools should open earlier in the morning and I believe that the best of work is done in the morning. Speaking from personal experience, I believe that if the day's work is not finished by 9 a.m. it is not going to be done. This is an opportunity for the Minister to be a crusading Minister and bring us in a time capsule in line with the rest of Europe. We offer it to the Minister as something on which she can act quickly.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Ireland;" and substitute the following:
"calls on the Government to consider the desirability of adopting Central European Time for this country."
As it is a Government amendment, it does not require a seconder.
I was reminded, as I listened to Senator O'Toole using all his charm, of trade union meetings I attended when I was a young trade unionist in Dublin's southside many years ago and he was my shop steward.
God help you.
As you can imagine, he wanted us all to lead the revolution.
And was it not?
I was reminded of that this evening. I was a crusading trade unionist then and I am now a crusading Minister. I thank Senators Quinn and O'Toole for raising this matter today and giving me an opportunity to debate the matter in the House. I have listened with interest to the points that have been put forward in favour of the motion.
The arguments for and against the adoption in Ireland of Central European Time have, of course, as Senators O'Toole and Quinn rightly said, been raised in this House on previous occasions, particularly when in 1968 the Standard Time Act was enacted and again in 1971 when that Act was amended. I would like to set out for the information of the House a brief statement of the historical background to this issue in the time available to me — no pun intended.
The Statutes (Definition of Time) Act, 1880, provided for the recognition in Britain of Greenwich Mean Time and in Ireland of Dublin Mean Time which was 25 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. Then in 1916 the Summer Time Act of that year provided for an advance of one hour on Standard (Dublin Mean) Time, thereby providing for what we term summer time in the period from 27 May to 1 October. Later in the same year, the Time (Ireland) Act, 1916, abolished Dublin Mean Time as from 1 October 1916, and synchronised Standard Time in Ireland with that in Britain, that is, Greenwich Mean Time.
The Acts I mentioned were repealed in 1968 when the Standard Time Act, 1968, was enacted. This was when both Ireland and Britain experimented with what might be colloquially called having summer time all year round. This Act provided that:
the time for general purposes in the State (to be known as standard time) shall be one hour in advance of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year...
As I said, this step was taken in parallel with a similar move in Britain, where the change was effected by the British Standard Time Act, 1968. However, in 1971, when Britain decided to revert to having separate periods of summer time and winter time, the public here were consulted by the Department of Justice in the matter and a majority favoured maintaining synchronisation with Britain and enabling legislation was passed to provide for this in the form of the Standard Time (Amendment) Act, 1971.
I take exception to the terminology used by Senator Quinn when he referred to the Irish as British poodles. I take exception to that terminology. We are not talking about the Minister for Justice or the Department of Justice here. The public were consulted in 1971. I would not like anybody to feel a sense of shame at being Irish. I certainly never have and I regret that Senator Quinn has. I am sorry to raise another point, but I think it is inappropriate for any Member of either House of the Oireachtas to refer to perceived difficulties that a Prime Minister of a sovereign state might have in relation to his or her own party. The kind of comments that were made in relation to a lunatic fringe are not at all appropriate for these Houses and I want to disassociate myself from them.
Ireland and Britain had adopted Central European Time for the three years 1968 to 1971 but then abandoned it. Speaking on the Second Stage of the 1971 Bill, the then Minister for Justice, in the Official Report of the Dáil, 7 July 1971; Vol. 255, col. 701 said:
When the British decision to revert to Greenwich mean time for part of the year had been taken, bodies and organisations that might have an interest in the matter were consulted by my Department as to whether the law should be changed to permit of this country's synchronising with Britain, and the public were invited to express their views also. The great majority of the bodies and organisations that were consulted, which included the major State-sponsored bodies, were in favour of our preserving parity with Britain. Slightly more than 300 private persons gave their views on the matter in letters to my Department. There was a fairly even balance as between those in favour of and those against a change to preserve parity with Britain, slightly more than half being in favour. The Government are satisfied that the weight of representative opinion is in favour of our keeping in line with Britain.
That was the view in 1971; it remains to be seen if this has changed 23 years later in 1994.
The debate on the issue of standard time was not effectively dropped at that point. With Ireland and Britain's entry into the EEC in 1973, an initiative was taken by the European Commission to examine the different practices of member states regulating the commencement and finishing dates for summer time in the member states. It was recognised that having summer time start and finish on different dates caused considerable difficulties and inconvenience for the business sector and in particular for transport and communications undertakings.
I want to take issue with Senator O'Toole. He made a very good case in relation to people who wish to do business in European capitals. He made the point that if one gets a 7.30 a.m. flight from Dublin airport, by the time one gets to the centre of the European capital in which one is going to do business half the morning is over. I suggest that there is a very simple solution to that. The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland can meet with the main airline, Aer Lingus, and point out that they are not happy with the scheduling of services. I am sure the airline would be happy to reschedule their services and instead of leaving at 7.30 in the morning one could leave at 6 a.m. and get there in plenty of time to do business and get a flight back. That is the solution to Senator O'Toole's problem.
The result of discussions between the member states has been a series of Council directives on summer time arrangements dating from 1981. Statutory Orders, entitled "Winter Time Orders", to implement the series of Directives were presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas in 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1992. The present directive in force is the Sixth Council Directive on Summertime Arrangements, which prescribed dates for the years 1993 and 1994. Arrangements are already well advanced for a further directive, the seventh. The proposals under consideration provide that after a one year transition period in 1995, the 12 member states of the European Union will synchronise both the commencing date and finishing date for summer time in the years 1996 and 1997.
It is proposed that the date which now applies in Ireland and Britain for ending summer time, namely the end of October, will be adopted by all the European Union states. The draft seventh directive also provides that the European Commission will undertake to carry out a thorough study of the effects of the adoption of summer time to appraise how such changes affect areas, such as energy, agriculture, road safety, the tourism industry, etc. Ireland will fully co-operate with the Commission in any research that may be required in relation to this study.
Turning to the terms of the motion, I am aware of the strength of Senator Quinn's views on the adoption by Ireland of Central European Time and I read his recent Irish Times newspaper article on the topic. He has enumerated the undoubted benefits which would accrue for the tourism, communications, commercial and transport sectors, but has he looked at the possible disadvantages? Things are seldom as black and white as the Senators proposing the motion would suggest.
The motion before the House and the arguments adduced in its favour do not make it clear, for example, that were the clocks to go forward one hour in the move to Central European Time, it would also be necessary to go forward a further hour in summer time in compliance with the terms of the EC directive so as to ensure Ireland is not out of step for the duration of the seven months of the year when Summer Time is in effect throughout the rest of the European Union. The result would be that, at the height of summer, darkness would not fall until as late as midnight. Would this be met with unanimous acceptance?
More importantly, the motion seeks to ignore our time relationship with Britain. The Senators proposing the motion seek to make light of the fact that if we move unilaterally to Central European Time we will have a one hour time difference throughout the year with Britain and, more importantly, with the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. Mention has been made of the point that for a period, namely during the Second World War, different dates for commencement and ending summer time were in operation in the two countries and their respective times were not in parity. However, given the war time restrictions which operated then, time differences between Ireland and Britain must have been the least of people's worries.
We live in the 1990s and we must recognise the reality that 42 per cent of Ireland's imports are from Britain and 31 per cent of our exports go to Britain. As Senator Quinn acknowledged, Britain is thus by far our largest trading partner. No unnecessary barriers or obstructions should be put in the way of such trade. Arising from our having a land border with Northern Ireland, the effects of a unilateral switch by this country to Central European Time would have the unwelcome effect of emphasising the existence of a border. It would lay stress on difference and could hinder rather than help the cross-Border trade and co-operation we would all like to see developed. Many people would welcome this anomaly, not least drinkers in the Border counties, but, seriously, I would have grave doubts of allowing such a situation to arise.
There would be other anomalies. On a lighter note, for instance, there would be the effect on closing times of pubs under the liquor licensing laws. If Ireland were to adopt Central European Time unilaterally, it would be possible for the clientele of a pub to finish drinking in Dundalk at the pub closing time of 11 p.m. and then travel to Newry to enjoy a further hour or so drinking time as Northern Ireland time would then be only 10 p.m. I am sure the House can visualise numerous anomalies and similar complications which would eventually arise.
I want to make it clear to Senator Quinn and Senator O'Toole that I have an open mind on this issue. At a personal level, I admit that I find the proposal attractive and can see many benefits accruing from it. As far as Senator Quinn is concerned, if the Government was to accept his motion, the late opening hours of his stores would indeed be late as it would be effectively 10 p.m. before his doors were closed. Bearing in mind — and I say this tongue in cheek — his hands on approach to running his business, I suggest it would leave him very little time to engage in his pastime of horse riding. As he raised the issue of horses, perhaps I can take my tongue out of my cheek.
However, as Minister, while I may be charged with responsibility for the legislation governing the regulation of time in this country, I do not have the luxury enjoyed by the Senators of depending solely on my own inclinations as to how I exercise that responsibility. I do not mean that in any condescending way. The change the Senators are advocating is one which will affect all areas of society, both in economic and social terms. It is, therefore, a matter which requires wide consultation and a consensus for change. This is particularly so if, as the Senators proposing the motion suggest, it is contemplated that we make the change to Central European Time even if our nearest neighbour and biggest trading partner, Britain, does not. I can see the advantages which may derive from such a change but I can also see disadvantages.
What the balance of advantage may be is a matter to be decided following extensive consultation with industry; farmers, educationalists, trade unions and other representative bodies in the wider community. I do not know if Senator O'Toole is an early riser but I am. As a former teacher I strongly support one of his points which was that if school started earlier in the morning, it would much more beneficial. It is a proven fact educationally that students learn far more in the early part of the day than they do in the afternoon. I am sure Senator O'Toole in saying that is not just stating a personal opinion but that he is speaking as the General Secretary of the INTO and is indicating that his union members would be willing to go down that road. It would not just mean an earlier start for teachers in the morning but longer teaching hours every day and much shorter holidays in exchange for long weekends from time to time during the year. I am glad Senator O'Toole went that far down the road in preparing us for this change when it comes.
The fact that my Department raised these issues in response to Senator Quinn's proposal is not mealy mouthed as the Senator stated in another forum. It is no more than a recognition of the fact that a proposal for radical change of this nature must be considered in a careful and democratic way. However, the proposers of the motion will be glad to hear that I have already given consideration, in the light of the general desire at European level for harmonisation, to the initiation of such a consultative process so that views on this issue can be obtained from all sectors of the community. It is also my intention to raise the matter at European level with my British counterpart to see whether a unified approach could be taken in this matter as this would obviate many of the disadvantages that would otherwise accompany such a change.
If the purpose of the proposers in putting down this motion was to have the change to Central European Time actively considered, I think they will be satisfied to accept the amendment proposed by Senator Fitzgerald. I would not support the motion in its original form as, in essence, it begs the question, and it is a big question. It also seeks to impose an unrealistic time-frame on deliberations.
In response to a point raised by Senator O'Toole — he was worried that the amendment might mean I was putting a decision on the long finger — I hope he will be satisfied with what I have said. It is not a long fingering exercise. The process of consultation has started. At any time in the past when proposals were made and I asked for or initiated a consultation process, there has not been a delay when we received the result of that consultation.
I am happy with the Minister's reply. I agree with her that the Senator's comment regarding Prime Minister Major was unfair. It did an injustice to his motion. We can do without that type of comment and it is irrelevant to the point he eloquently expressed. However, I am happy that the idea of changing to Central European Time is being actively considered by the EU. As a nation we can no longer do anything without discussion at European level and that being so, within three years, there will be a change in this area. I welcome that. We should not be alone when there is no need.
The decision made in 1971 was insufficiently considered. I am delighted that at least our education structure readily admits that our schools should open earlier each morning. At present, travelling to school on dark mornings poses a big danger for children and I worry about that. However, I am pleased to learn the new statistics regarding accidents involving children travelling to school in the morning. Schools starting at the same time as businesses will not do much for trading. This should be examined. Every consideration should be given to the point made by Senator O'Toole with regard to the education structure.
In relation to Senator Quinn's points, we should take advantage of the time zone. We are the most westerly European country. The impression given by Europeans generally is that we have longer days, in other words, we have long evenings while on the mainland night falls quickly. In the Canaries or in Spain at 8 p.m. on a summer night it is dark. Every summer's day they have 12 hours of daylight; we do not.
I was surprised to learn that during the war there was a time difference between Northern and Southern Ireland. We should avail of every opportunity people in other countries do not have. We could have more daylight if we changed to European time, and I am sure people would want that. Last winter was the darkest and dullest in the experience of many people. The clouds were very low.
More hours of daylight would provide many advantages of which our young people would avail and they would also be beneficial from an environmental point of view. During the oil crisis in the early 1970s we took the opportunity to introduce the change the time for one winter.
Everything possible should be done to give us more daylight time. I agree with the motion; Senator Quinn should agree to the amendment. Discussion on this matter will continue at EU level over the next one or two years. Whether we like it or not, they tell us what to do. They tell us how much money they are giving us long before we think we are going to get it, and then they come back and say we are only getting half that amount. Let us be realistic. We should very seriously put forward the argument at EU ministerial level whether to adopt this one hour time change. This is very important. I do not want to be political about this, and I do not want anybody else to be political, but we should avail of every possible advantage, such as having more daylight in comparison to the mainland of Europe.
I agree there are problems from a business point of view, for example, catching earlier flights to get to European capitals. If a passenger travelling to Berlin or Hamburg must stopover in London first, it may be noon before he or she arrives at their destination. We could start with earlier flights. In case the Minister does not know, early flights have already started in Cork. Everything starts in Cork, of course. The first flight out of Cork leaves at 6.30 a.m.; the first flight out of Dublin is 7.30 a.m. so I have to get up early in the morning if I want to get to another European capital.
Because of the cutbacks in Aer Lingus, flights have to start earlier if travellers are to make connecting flights. If you can get your business done and go home in the one day big savings can be made. That is very important but while Aer Lingus is trying to get everybody into the capital to make connecting flights, other companies have direct flights. We could be losing business because we want to bring everybody into the capital. That situation should be looked at.
Generally I am happy with the amendment, I would be happy if I thought something would be done within the next two to three years but we should always take every advantage including the fact that we have a stretch in the evenings which other countries do not enjoy.
This motion is very timely; I know that is a pun. I listened very carefully to the Minister. This is a very important issue and she understands the position very well and is aware of the benefits we will get from Central European Time. We must be aware of what it really means to us if we have a unified time, but we must move cautiously on this. There are many views on this and many people are discussing this at all levels.
I have just come back from a trip abroad and had to adjust my watch so many times that I began to get confused about where I was in relation to timetables and appointments. This change would make it easier for all of us who are trying to do a day's work. There are many positive aspects to this. It would be beneficial in terms of visitors and outdoor activities could be pursued through the summer months. We would have daylight until 11.30 p.m. This is an advantage we should maximise.
We should look at how best to use the daylight hours. We thrive in daylight; we are brighter during the summer; even our clothes sense changes. During the winter we wear dark clothes, we seem to hibernate, by 9 p.m. we are comfortably watching the television when, as a race, we like to be out and about. We are a social race and longer hours of daylight would do us good. From April until October we are all much brighter and full of laughter. I feel it myself, and I am not exceptional in this regard; it is part of our nature.
The timing of a long day is important. We should finish work in daylight, go home and pursue a leisure activity. That is helpful in developing our whole personality, whereas if we hibernate it tends to stultify our personality. It is important to bear that in mind.
On a more serious note, it would be of great benefit to our commercial, agricultural and transport sectors. Knowing that time is centralised would impact on all aspects of employment. We should not slavishly follow the United Kingdom concept of time. I acknowledge the way the history of the difference in time emerged in this country but, nevertheless, we should be proactive and acknowledge that we are fully paid up members of the European Union. We should be looking at a more continental rather than a more localised approach.
The Minister has an open mind on this issue. We should take a consultative approach for the moment and not get too tied up in making a commitment unless we have explored all aspects of it. I am a little concerned with the early start in the morning. I would have great difficulty with that as I am a late night person. I would move cautiously on this, knowing that it would affect me and that perhaps I would be out of a job in no time.
It would mean getting up early and our school children would have to travel to school in the dark. Consultation should take place with parents, teachers and the community at large on how best to overcome that problem. It is not insurmountable but we have to think of that aspect of it. As a teacher I think it is something we will have to look at.
We have had an excellent debate on this motion, a real dinner time discussion. I hope that in future we will be able to discuss such debates in the open air and not indoors. I would support the amendment in that we are looking for consensus on this issue and the Minister has made a commitment on that point. We should move slowly, cautiously and with consultation.
I welcome the motion and the Minister's response, particularly, her comment that she has an open mind on the issue. On balance I am in favour of the motion and there is considerable merit in it. For a variety of reasons some people will applaud the idea that we should act independently of the UK whenever possible. That is not and cannot be the compelling reason why we should align ourselves with Central European Time. I am nonetheless intrigued reading the amendment and comparing it to the motion because the amendment accepts all that is in the motion with the exception of one point. The words which would appear to have caused fright on the other side of the House are: "conscious of the desirability of taking decisions independent of domestic considerations in the United Kingdom". That seems to be the only significant difference between the motion and the amendment.
The reasons we should align ourselves with Central European Time are expressed where the motion refers to the benefits which would accrue to "business, tourism, road safety and the quality of life in Ireland". The beneficial effects have been enumerated and I want to add a few points which may not yet have been made. While I recognise the importance of our trade and commerce with the UK, our business with the European Union and with the countries that aspire to membership of the EU is rapidly expanding. There is no doubt that it will be the growth market of the future and, therefore, any steps we can take to ease any difficulties should be taken.
The time difference is of no value or benefit to Irish business in its dealings with the EU; it is an unnecessary disadvantage in many ways and some of these have been dealt with. I am always concerned that if we are behind Europe there is always the possibility that European business people may subconsciously assume that because we are behind in time we are in some way a backward island or an insignificant appendage of the UK. It is no more than a subconscious assumption, if it exists. I am not in a position to say that it does exist but the circumstances permit that type of assumption to arise and it is not to Ireland's advantage.
Senator O'Toole made a valid point when he said that the time difference is responsible for the loss of three office hours per day — in the morning, at lunch time and in the evening. The Minister referred to consultations and decisions taken in 1971, but 23 years later times and conditions have changed. Although the decisions taken were valid and acceptable in 1971, time alone justifies a re-examination of the arguments which then existed in favour of aligning ourselves with the UK and I am glad to see that examination is in progress.
This argument can apply with great force in relation to tourism. The preliminary figures for last year indicate that about one million visitors came from the European countries. It does nothing for the progressive image of the tourism industry here that the first thing a European tourist arriving here has to do is put their watch or clock back by one hour. As we all know, first impressions can often dominate a person's perception during the remainder of their holiday. We should ensure that people coming to this country to holiday should start with a positive and not a negative perception.
In tourism circles considerable emphasis is being put on expanding the shoulders of the holiday season, that is, developing spring and autumn holidays. The previous speaker mentioned the value of activity holidays. My family has for some years been involved in a tourism project in the field of activity holidays. It is a season that can and has run from February to December. However, in recent years it has finished on 1 November because once the clocks go back and lunch has finished, and depending on the weather, there is at most two hours of daylight in the afternoon. If tourism is to be successfully developed in early spring and in autumn it is important that we go with the intent of this motion.
The best potential for the expansion of off-season tourism is among European tourists. North Europeans who come here have no problem with our weather; they expect it to be as it is and they come prepared for it. However, they certainly have problems and are not slow to express them with the short winter afternoons. The strongest argument for the motion relates to tourism.
I do not want to repeat already well made arguments about the motion. I support and endorse the arguments made regarding road safety; they are good arguments. As far as the quality of life is concerned, it is a matter of personal perception, of individual expectation and desire and views will vary on the matter. The longer daylight hours, particularly in the evenings, would improve my quality of life. For these reasons I support the motion.
The salesmanship of Senator Quinn, the negotiating powers of Senator O'Toole and some of what has been said by Senator Ormonde and Senator Howard have almost persuaded me that we could have summer, as opposed to summer time, all year round. There is almost a feeling here that we can have longer hours of brightness if we change the time on our watches. However, that is not true.
I referred earlier today to Senator Quinn's tie in relation to the televising of debates. Senator Manning talked about the women Senators having an advantage in wearing brighter colours and I referred to the mens' ties. I would refer to Senator Quinn's colourful tie as his summer time tie because he is dressed in accordance with the motion.
We cannot change our latitude and we cannot stop the earth spinning on its axis, so we cannot gain more brightness by changing and the impression has been given that we can do so. We will lose it at one end of the day if we gain it at the other.
We would have it at the right time.
Senator Quinn and Senator O'Toole are right to have raised this issue. Their intention is to stimulate debate and they have succeeded in doing so. The Minister's response has been positive and the view of the House is that there should be consideration of the issue. In her address the Minister advised that there would be a need for wide consultation and a consensus for change as a practical response to the issue and I support the amendment to the motion on that basis.
Senator O'Toole indicated that we would use less energy in cooking if this was undertaken in brightness rather than darkness. However, we use the same amount of energy in turning on the cooker, irrespective of whether the light is on at the same time or not.
There are strong arguments in favour of giving serious consideration to the motion, but we should try to work in coordination and in co-operation with our nearest neighbours rather than having a oneupmanship attitude to the issue, which was evident to some extent in a number of contributions to this debate. In conjunction with the UK, I would prefer to see us attempting to move towards Central European Time as this would bring most of the advantages without the considerable disadvantage which would arise from acting unilaterally on this matter.
The UK is our biggest trading partner and our biggest tourism market. Recent statistics for tourism for 1993 indicate that over one million tourists visited Ireland from the UK, just under one million visited from the rest of Europe and fewer than that from the USA and North America. We cannot ignore the fact that the UK is our biggest market in terms of trade and tourism and in view of this it would be preferable if we worked in co-operation with the UK on this issue.
The north-south factor cannot be ignored also. Yesterday I attended the relaunch of the midwest region of Co-Operation North. If there is to be real co-operation with the North of Ireland, changing our time and making if different from that in the North would not be productive or useful.
The idea behind the motion is good, but it would be preferable if we moved with Britain and Northern Ireland on this issue. In view of this I support the amendment to the motion rather than the motion, as we require consultation not only within this country but also with our nearest neighbour and our biggest tourism and trading market.
I am also concerned with the implications of the motion regarding children attending school in the morning. There is a short number of hours of brightness in winter regardless of what steps are taken. At present children attend school with light and return home with light. If the change to Central European Time is implemented there would be one end of the day where they would not have light and, with regard to safety, this must be a primary consideration.
It was indicated in the debate that figures suggest that our road safety would be improved by this proposal. I am not aware of those figures and would appreciate if they were provided to me as I am open to persuasion on the matter. However, our primary concern must be with children attending school in the morning and this is my major reservation on the issue.
I conclude by reiterating that we should move in conjunction with the UK on this matter.
Somebody once told me that there is no such thing as a bad short speech and my speech on this issue will be short. I have read the Minister's statement of the background and that of the proposers of the motion — some of whose views I agree with — speaking solely from a commercial perspective. But I would speak for another section of the community. We lesser mortals, coming from a place called rural Ireland, are aware of what may described as new time and old time, and when old time is introduced we know and understand it.
There has been a problem in recent years with school transport where there has been a curtailment of the routes with the result that children have to travel to school buses. In view of this, if the motion were to be adopted it would result in small children having to be on the road at 6.30 in the morning, making their way to school buses, which is not acceptable. It would mean that it would be dark until 9 o'clock in the morning and the children would return home in the evening in darkness.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the motion, I cannot support it for those reasons.
I thank the Minister for attending the House to participate in the debate. The contributions were interesting and I was impressed by the level of debate and the interest shown in it. At first I was concerned that there might be a belief that this issue is rather frivolous. I must emphasise that for me, and clearly for my colleagues in the House, it has not been regarded in a frivolous way.
I was in Israel some seven or eight years ago when the debate took place to adopt a summer time. It was a difficult debate, given the religious background. However, Israel decided to join summer time for the reason that it made good commercial advantage.
The motion I proposed in the House today was influenced by the fact that it made good commercial sense for us to take an advantage over our competitors in adopting Central European Time. However, I am not accepting many of the points made in the House on this debate. Senator Sherlock referred to the fact that I spoke solely from a commercial viewpoint. If Senator Sherlock has a chance to read my speech proposing the motion he will discover that the commercial factor was only one of the reasons for proposing the motion. There are considerable advantages to the motion, not solely commercial in nature. These advantages were touched upon by Senator O'Toole when he spoke of a safer, healthier, brighter and, I suggest, wealthier Ireland if we proceeded in this direction.
Senator Ormonde appeared to assume that I spoke of unified time and endeavours to get Europe unified. I did not speak of unified time. Each country and each sovereign nation should make its own decisions on this. This is an opportunity for us to move and for us to take an advantage. It should not be a decision obliging us to consider the rest of Europe. It is not up to Europe; it is up to us and as a sovereign nation we should make this decision.
Senator O'Sullivan referred to the fact that we cannot create more daylight. We do not as a nation get up at 5 o'clock in the morning, nor do we tend to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning. Therefore we can create more daylight that we use by changing the time. This answers some of the criticisms made previously and it illustrates that there are some matters in our hands. I accept that if we move in this direction, we will make some changes. It might be suggested that schools could have different opening times for the months of November, December and January if there are difficulties arising. However, these are matters in our hands and it underlines my point when I speak of a sovereign nation having the ability to take action on its own.
The Minister criticised two terms I used when proposing the motion. One of these terms was in my referral to the "lunatic fringe" of the British Government party. If I have broken a code in the use this term then I will withdraw it, but in using the term I refer to those who are so strongly pro-British that they believe Britain should have nothing to do with Europe. It is madness to suggest that Britain should not join Central European Time because somehow or other it associates Britain more closely with mainland Europe. It is not a sensible approach and I do not regard my words as being out of place on this matter. However, I would be upset if it was believed that I was using words considered to be unparliamentary.
In regard to the other term I used, I have no apologies. The Minister was also upset, and she appeared to suggest that I was ashamed to be Irish because I suggested that we acted like poodles. When we believe we can act only when our next door neighbour says so, we behave like poodles. We should not be so influenced by our neighbour that we say we will never do such a thing. If it gives us an advantage in tourism, about which Senator Howard spoke, safety, health and business, we should grab that opportunity.
I was pleased with what I thought I heard the Minister say. I have since looked at her speech. She said that "I have already been giving consideration, in the light of the general desire at European level for harmonisation, to the initiation of such a consultation process". I thought she said she had taken the first steps. I became a little worried when I read this. On 28 October the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, told the House that "I will certainly give this suggestion some consideration". I am worried when I hear words like "giving this consideration". I proposed October 1995 in this motion. The crucial difference — I know Senator Howard referred to the difference as being something else — between the motion and the Government's amendment is that the latter does not mention October 1995. I am concerned that "giving consideration" is not as strong as what I thought I heard the Minister say.
I was also concerned that the Minister said that "It is also my intention to raise the matter at European level with my British counterpart to see whether a unified approach could be taken in this matter". I am worried that there is a danger we are being fobbed off by these words and the issue is being put on a longer and longer finger. I am fully convinced, and have not heard arguments to the contrary, that this is a matter we as a sovereign nation should take into our hands and act in our own best interests, even if our next door neighbour does not come with us. I am also pleased at the level of the debate today and it may be the start of a debate which will continue in the near future. I listened carefully to the Minister and will support the amendment. I do so almost reluctantly because of the words used, which I do not believe are strong enough. If this is just a question of giving the issue consideration, the House should in the near future push urgently for more action and should be unhappy to allow the matter to rest. We should keep it on the agenda and urge the nation to take it into its own hands.