Belfast Telegraph

Alarm bells are ringing over call for time change

One TD's proposal to turn the clocks in Dublin an hour ahead of Belfast was greeted with mirth. But there's a serious side to it, says Michael Wolsey

Jack Lynch, a taoiseach of the late-1960s, liked to joke about the announcement on a plane about to land at Belfast. The pilot tells passengers to fasten their seatbelts and put back their watches by three centuries.

If a member of today's Dail has his way, we'll be making an adjustment every time we cross the border – not as drastic as 300 years, just one hour (and only for the six months in winter when the clocks go back).

Tommy Broughan, a Dublin Labour TD, wants the Republic to leave the hour where it is now, giving perpetual Summer Time and longer evenings. This would put the country in line with most of the rest of Europe, but out of sync with Northern Ireland.

So, when the good folk of Lifford knock off work at 5pm, their neighbours a few steps along the road in Strabane would be coming out of meetings at four o'clock and settling down for a further hour of toil.

And while the children of Belcoo, in Co Fermanagh, are turning over at seven for another hour's kip, their cousins just minutes away in Blacklion, Co Cavan, would be up and getting ready for the school bus.

Unless, of course, they go to school in the north. In that case, they'll be up and twiddling their thumbs because their classrooms won't be open yet.

Now, you may find this proposal from Timelord Broughan rather odd and think perhaps he should be calling for his sonic screwdriver to fix the screw that's loose.

But don't be hasty. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. There could be advantages in his plan.

I can see opportunities for the village of Pettigo, which is split in two by the border. It could become the mini-marathon capital of the world, home to the only race that runners can finish earlier than they started.

And punters with different races in mind might dream wishfully of a village where they could back the winner of the 2.30 on the Fermanagh side of the border, having confirmed the result an hour earlier up the street in Donegal.

Good news, too, for Translink and Iarnrod Eireann, joint operators of the cross-border Enterprise express train. If, perish the thought, it should be an hour late at Dundalk, they can relax in the knowledge it will have made up the time before it reaches Newry.

The opportunities for extending licensing hours are endless. Or they would be – if anyone around the border ever worried about licensing hours in the first place.

Broughan is not used to border ways, of course. He made his proposal in the relatively consensual atmosphere of Dublin politics. Up here it's different.

Nationalists, I fear, would adopt Irish time, with unionists backing Britain. This would play havoc with the Assembly timetable.

We might have Sinn Fein responding to the DUP's points before they even make them – not much change there, come to think of it. It certainly wouldn't bother the TUV. Their 24-hour clocks are permanently set at 16:90.

Broughan has put his proposal into legislative form and even managed to secure some Dail time to press for his Brighter Evenings Bill. But it got short shrift from his coalition colleague, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who caustically responded that anyone wanting to enjoy longer evenings should try getting out of bed earlier. "I understand it is common practice in Norway and Sweden," he said.

That logic might not convince the late-risers of Dublin, but few would dispute Shatter's assertion that the Republic's trade and business links with Britain are too important to risk on an experiment like this. "Realistically, Ireland is not going to put itself in a different time zone to Northern Ireland or the UK," said the minister. Indeed.

But perhaps it is time to consider a joint move by both the UK and Ireland. The proposal has many British supporters, as diverse as the Football Association, Age Concern and the Lawn Tennis Association.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says it would reduce road deaths and serious injuries by 11% in England and 17% in Scotland.

The Energy Saving Trust says it would knock £260m a year off the UK's bill for lighting.

Prime Minister David Cameron has shown some sympathy, drawing perhaps on the tradition of his predecessor Winston Churchill, who extended Summer Time by two hours as a daylight saving measure during the Second World War.

Cameron says he has been following the debate for many years and it's an idea whose time will one day come.

"I think the argument will be won when people across the country feel comfortable with the change,'' he told a newspaper.

But the prime minister is adamant that, whatever way the argument goes, there can only be one time-zone for the entire UK.

Shatter and most of his colleagues are equally adamant that all of Ireland must remain in that zone.

So, if Tommy Broughan still wants to go on a solo time-trial, he may find it lonely in his Tardis.

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