Brighter Evenings Bill 2012: Second Stage
Friday, 5 July 2013
I commend Deputy Broughan for his initiative in bringing forward the Bill. In doing some research for today’s debate I was struck by the fact that the majority of us would probably be in favour of the change. The song “Summertime” includes the words “and the living is easy”. On a day like today it would be very difficult to oppose Deputy Broughan’s proposal, and I commend him for it.
In his Bill the Deputy asks that, first, the Minister for Justice and Equality would investigate the costs and benefits of advancing the clocks by one hour, which would be worthwhile, and, second, that this would be done for a three year period. Deputy Broughan quoted Dr. Hillman from the Policy Studies Institute in the University of Westminster. I acknowledge the work done on this by Deputy David Stanton, Senator Feargal Quinn and Deputy Eoghan Murphy but the argument put forward by opponents of what we are asking Government to consider this morning centre around the major issue of children going to school in darkness. However, if we put that into context, most of what we do is done in daylight, with the exception of late afternoon and evening in winter time, which is in darkness. I am of the view that as far as possible most of our waking hours should be spent in daylight, allowing for the variances in climate and so on. According to Dr. Hillman’s study, most people are awake five hours before midday and ten hours after midday. That is a huge dichotomy in terms of the length of the day. I ask people to dwell on that because it is important that the majority of what we do is done in daylight, and ten hours of daylight after midday is a huge chunk of time.
There would be major benefits from this proposal for a three year period. My only concern would be that we would have a different time zone from that of our fellow citizens in the North of our country, which would in one way create another artificial barrier that is unnecessary. Deputy Stanton and Deputy Broughan referred to the research from Westminster but I am conscious that is probably a spurious argument, although for some of us it is not necessarily so.
I agree with Deputy Stanton on the issue of doing this even for a trial period if Deputy Broughan’s Bill is not accepted, and I do not want to pre-empt anything. I agree with Deputy Stanton on the issue of changing summer time and winter time so that it is in synch with the United States model.
Another point I would make, and it is probably a hang-up of mine, is that our seasons are different. Our autumn begins in August, which is still summer time to many of us. Our spring starts in February, which is still winter time to many of us. We should consider how we could change that also because the month of August is probably the time we get our best weather. It is the traditional festival time in terms of gathering the harvest and so on but that too has changed. I wonder what would be the implications of changing our designation of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The shortest day of the year is 21 December but the longest day is 21 June, which means we have only a six weeks summer period whereas we have the four weeks in August, which is designated as autumn. I may be a bit quirky about that but it is something we should examine.
The majority of people spend winter looking forward to summer. On Sunday we will be heading to Killarney, Cork and Kerry. It is the height of the summer, the first weekend of July. Would it not be great if we could extend summer time as opposed to daylight saving time?
I listened to what Deputy Dooley said and from our point of view as Members of Oireachtas Éireann, would it not be great if we enacted this Bill in order to prolong our evening sittings?
That might perhaps help in reducing some of the hyperbole uttered by certain individuals, including myself. I wish to point out to Deputy Dooley that the Government has reformed how the Oireachtas does its business. We sit longer – both in terms of the number of days on which we are here and the number of hours for which we sit – and hours and the Government has not guillotined as many Bills as Fianna Fáil did when it was in power. The Parliament operates much better as a result.
I am of the view that the Bill would prove to be of enormous benefit to the country and its people. As Deputy Broughan correctly points out, research shows that the number of road casualties has been reduced in jurisdictions in which a change of this nature has been made. It has also had an impact on people’s attitudes. We all get the winter blues. When it gets dark at 4.30 p.m. at certain times of the year, one can feel almost claustrophobic. The issue of health is important. I am aware of the vagaries of our climate – namely, the fact that it might be wetter and colder here than elsewhere – but the change proposed in the Bill would provide people with the opportunity to involve themselves more in recreational and leisure activities. I went out walking last night and I must have counted 40 other individuals who were out doing the same thing. Those people were in tremendous humour because it was bright and they were able to exercise. In my constituency we have a marina and there is also the walk from Carrigaline to Crosshaven and people use both for the purposes of leisure and recreation. Imagine if they were able to do so on winter evenings. Even if the weather were crisp and cold, they would still be able to go out and they would not be worrying about it getting dark. People would not be frightened. Deputy Broughan was correct in stating that crime statistics would fall as a result of the proposed change.
The important point is that the Bill deserves to be considered. There is, however, one aspect about which people are concerned. Deputy Stanton referred to his days in school and I am not sure whether he was referring to when he was a teacher or when he was a student. An issue arises in the context of children going to school when it is dark. It is probably fair to say that the change proposed in the legislation would not have the same impact in urban areas, particularly in view of the number of footpaths and street lights and the availability of public transportation. I do not mean to be deliberately negative but in rural areas children who are obliged to travel some distance to school are picked up by school buses at crossroads and junctions where there is no public lighting. In some cases, these children would be obliged to wait on their own for the arrival of their school buses. This is an issue to which consideration must be given. We could circumvent this difficulty by moving the time at which school starts to 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. and extending the school day to 4 p.m or 5 p.m. This could give rise to the possible benefit of alleviating early morning traffic congestion. There is an argument for children going to school later and for their parents to commence work later.
There are benefits to be had from the change proposed by Deputy Broughan. The issue of people’s physical health and well-being is also one on which we must focus. In that context, people who suffer from vitamin D deficiency, osteoporosis and other medical conditions may benefit from the proposed change. We must not be afraid to change if we are of the view that it is the right thing to do. We should embrace change. The Government is introducing change in a multiplicity of areas and I do not understand why it would not be possible to introduce it in this instance, particularly as there would be major benefits. Dr. Hillman’s study in respect of the north of our country indicates that benefits could accrue to us. It is worth giving consideration to making the change.
Deputies Broughan and Colreavy referred to farming. I am sure farming organisations and lobbyists will have an issue in respect of this matter. However, I return to my point relating to the hours before and after midday and when one does most of one’s work.
We must also consider this matter in the context of energy consumption and our carbon footprint. This morning, the Joint Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government is discussing climate change. This is an issue to which we must give consideration in the context of the Bill. Making the change proposed by Deputy Broughan could lead to a reduction in the level of greenhouse gases we produce as a result of a reduction in demand. People will argue that this might not happen as a result of the cold weather we experience in winter but calculations indicate that it would have a positive impact in reducing greenhouse gas levels.
I am of the view that the majority of people will favour the introduction of this change, even for a trial period. The change will give rise to major benefits. The Bill is certainly worth considering in the context of the medium to long-term position. It is definitely worth considering in the short term in respect of how we might make what is proposed work better for us. I have not spoken to him but I hope the Minister will consider not causing a division on the legislation, which many of us would like to come into effect for a trial period at least. If the change did not work, we could reverse our decisions. I am of the view that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I commend Deputy Broughan on his work on the Bill. I also commend Deputy Stanton on the work he has done in this area. I hope the information Deputy Broughan is seeking in the context of what would be the impact and the cost benefits of implementing the legislation will be published.