Do we opt for winter time or summer time in new clock regime? A heated debate may ensue before there is peace in our time...

In his weekly column John Dolan looks at plans to end the biannual clock change from 2021.
Do we opt for winter time or summer time in new clock regime? A heated debate may ensue before there is peace in our time...
Times are changing... the European Union plan to end the biannual clock change from 2021.

HERE’S an interesting, if useless, snippet of information for you to digest.

For around 500 years in medieval Rome, the clocks were numbered from just one to six.

Under the Catholic Church time system, the day began at the evening Ave Maria, about half an hour after sunset, and the next 24 hours were divided into four cycles of six hours each.

So, confusingly for the locals, who only had church clocks to go off, there were four 1 o’clocks, four 2 o’clocks, etc, up to 6.

We can only imagine how many Roman dates went awry because Quirinus said he’d meet Aurelia for a mead wine at 3 o’clock sharp, but failed to stipulate which 3 o’clock. Doh.

It was left to Napoleon to overhaul the Roman system and introduce a 24-hour clock, although it was only with the advent of railways 200 years later that the need for a centralised way of keeping time in each European country became paramount.

However, with the advent of air travel, then computers, and in our increasingly globalised world, it’s not just countries that now require synchronisation, but entire continents.

Hence, this week, the European Union Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee backed plans to end the biannual clock change from 2021.

This means that the clock is ticking on the system of putting the small hand forward an hour every spring and back in the autumn. In 2021, under the EU plan, the clocks will go forward or back for the last time.

The move has long been mooted, and it’s true that when the clocks change every March and October, it can cause confusion in households — does it mean an extra hour in bed or not? Will the mornings be lighter or darker now? Not to mention the curse of spending a goodly amount of your Sunday morning changing alarm clocks and devices in cars and on walls.

When they were consulted on the proposed change, many EU citizens complained that moving the dial by an hour twice a year caused sleep problems and exacerbated health problems such as Seasonable Affective Disorder.

The clock changes have also been blamed for a 10% increase in heart attacks and for causing more road accidents.

In the EU, a handsome majority of 84% want to end the current system. In Ireland, studies have shown two-thirds of us want to stop the ritual of changing the clocks.

This tradition dates back in many EU countries to World War I, when it was introduced on the premise it saved energy. That may have been so in those dark, gloomy days, but the argument just doesn’t stack up in the 21st century.

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc has pointed out there is “no obvious evidence” of energy savings in changing the clocks, and added: “Our habits have changed.”

She’s right there — to give just one topical example, the decision to switch The Echo from an evening to a morning publication this week came about partly because, across the world, the appetite for evening newspapers has been declining for a number of years. Major cities such as London, Dublin and Manchester phased out theirs many years ago.

So, you might think, axing the clocks change will be universally welcomed in 2021, and the entire continent will be as synchronised as those Olympic swimmers with pegs on their noses.

Ah...

There are a few problems with that. Firstly, those European countries not in the EU, a list that will soon include the UK, are not beholden to change their systems.

The idea of the UK and Ireland being in separate time zones for all or half of the year really doesn’t bear thinking about.

It’s a little known fact that neighbours India and Pakistan have such enmity that they introduced a half-hour time zone between each other — the thought of the DUP doing something similar surely cannot be ruled out! However, all the indications are that Britain and align, whatever changes take place.

But the main issue with the new EU timing system could come in the way it is implemented.

Rather than simply deciding that EU countries will adopt summer time or winter time and taking it from there, each country will be allowed to decide whether they opt for summer or winter time, then be invited to introduce their system in either March, 2021 (for summertime) or October, 2021 (for winter time).

Most countries favour permanently adopting summer time — also known as daylight saving time — since it will mean brighter evenings all year round, and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has indicated a preference for it.

But what do we think in Ireland. Basically, that’s like asking, are you a morning person or a night owl?

Morning people, like me, will prefer the winter option for its lighter mornings in winter, and perhaps farmers, builders, and shift workers will also favour it. The strongest argument for adopting it is that children will not be going to school in darkness in midwinter.

On the other hand, night owls, pub owners and gardeners will probably prefer the lighter evenings that come with adopting summer time as standard.

This debate really has all the ingredients required for a juicy debate, doesn’t it? Opinions being proffered, people falling out, politicians and parties picking a side, and barstool debaters holding forth.

Indeed, late last year Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan launched a consultation process, asking the public whether they were in favour of abandoning the current clock-changing system, and if so, would they prefer to stay constantly on summer time or winter time. I wonder what feedback he has had thus far.

The majority who favour adopting summer time might want to bear in mind what happened in Russia in recent years.

It experimented with summertime hours all year round, but in 2014 it moved to permanent wintertime amid claims the old system had created stress and health problems, particularly in northern Russia where longer, darker mornings were worse.

People can certainly get very particular about new systems of timekeeping. In 1752, there was reportedly rioting on the streets of Britain when it switched to the Julian calendar. Folk went to bed on Wednesday, September 2 and woke up on Thursday, September 14, and some protested, fearing they had been diddled out of their wages.

As regards the proposed EU changes, member states have until April, 2020, to notify the European Commission of their choice of adopting summer time or winter time. That means we have just over a year to have the debate...

At least Corkonians can be sure of one tradition that will continue, whatever happens with the changes in timekeeping: The Shandon clock will keep on being a four-faced liar!

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