Once again confusion, and anger in some quarters, has engulfed the country by yet another poorly handled Government announcement. Obviously our Ministers learned little from the 2007 debacle over the Provisional Licensed drivers. This time around Thomas Edison’s most famous invention, the light bulb, is at the heart of the problem. In an arrogant stance taken by Minister John Gormley, incandescent bulbs are to be phased out by January 2009. This is less than 12 months for an entire population and a lighting and retail industry to prepare for the change. No one doubts the need to cut our energy consumption; no one could possibly argue against lower consumer electricity bills and a genuine attempt to slow down global warming, but surely sanity must prevail and a well thought out plan for change must be put in place.

We should all be quite proud of the fact that Ireland led the vanguard in phasing out the plastic bag as an environmental measure. It was a step taken quite simply and everyone agreed it was a good idea. Shops were given a chance to provide their customers with the option of bags for life and a levy was put on existing bags thereby giving the consumer a choice. It made sense, it still makes sense and overall the plastic bag issue has been a roaring success. Indeed some shops now only offer easily recyclable paper alternatives.

Equally the light bulb change should be looked on as a positive step with everyone in support of the idea. Instead, a poorly thought through announcement is made, a date is plucked from the sky and all hell breaks loose in the ensuing days, tarnishing what is, in essence, a very good idea. One has to wonder if this sort of action is a mark of ministerial arrogance or stupidity.

The light bulb issue is a worldwide problem, not just an Irish one. Most countries have a ‘ban the bulb’ movement that is gaining in strength and many have policies already in place for the phase out. The US state of California, which already has many different types of alternative technologies available in the marketplace, is talking about a total phase out by 2012; sounds reasonable. The rest of the US is looking at a 10 year turnaround. The idea behind these strategies is that it would be a gradual change with people being educated and encouraged all the way through the phase out with significant gains being made in each of the lead up years. This gives the consumer a chance to gradually replace all the bulbs and, if necessary the home fittings, and also the industry has a chance to properly saturate the market with new technologies and, who knows, maybe even improve on the current ones.

Meanwhile in Ireland questions remain unanswered and the clock is ticking. I can just about put up with the fact that long life bulbs give a reduced, sometimes unattractive light, on the basis that I’m helping the environment but I can’t replace all the bulbs in my home because some of the fittings don’t suit the shape of the current CFLs. The long life bulb widely available on the Irish Market doesn’t hold a lampshade on that well. Meanwhile what about all the exposed fittings that currently hold candle shaped bulbs? I have one particular light fitting that takes three exposed candle bulbs and if these bulbs are banned and no alternative offered, I will have no choice but to replace the light fitting. If I have to replace it then what am I supposed to do with it? Landfill perhaps, as what good is it to a charity shop? If this is the case I am even more annoyed as the fitting was only purchased in the past six months at a significant cost.

Also consider people who are moving into a new house this year and have already purchased their fittings in pre-Christmas or January Sales and may have to wait several months before installing them? There are businesses that may not have factored the change into this year’s budgets. Yes, it will save money in the long term but it could pose a problem now. Another question is how informed are the retail lighting shops about the changes? Can I honestly expect to walk into a store today and find a well informed sales assistant? They can’t be expected to know much more than the rest of us. Then there are the manufacturers who are equally in the dark over the issue. There has been little consultation and there is a lot at stake. Can they supply the market and, indeed, provide all the various shaped bulbs in long life form in time for January 2009?

Television, film and theatre will find it a challenge to replicate the strong lights required for many tasks with CFL bulbs and auditoriums will have to install more light fittings as they will probably need more bulbs to make up for the loss of light.

I also wonder how the ban is going to be policed. Will there be men and women in black suits and sunglasses calling door to door, flashing a bulb inspector badge, pushing their way into our homes and carting us off to the nearest cell in cuffs if we have failed to comply. Will it be like the TV Licence’ ads, where there is a huge stigma attached to people for owning an incandescent light bulb? Will a much loved heirloom lamp push some of us to break the rules and source soft tone bulbs on the black market? Will we have human ‘bulb mules’ sweating at custom points terrified that their stash is going to be uncovered? It will certainly prove to be a tough one for the sniffer dogs!

The bottom line is that yes we need to change, but we need information, education maybe even initial incentives and trials – positive steps towards change and not just announcements and pig headed decrees from on high. It almost feels like Minister John Gormley is taking any questioning of his deadline as rebelliousness. He is a strict parent scolding little children if they dare to raise a point about his decisions or authority. Well Mr. Gormley is not a parent, just as the lighting industry and, indeed the general public, should not be seen as the children. He is an elected representative with a job to make good decisions that will help everyone. We are all grown adults and most of us are quite willing to support any measures that may be helpful to the environment, but the approach and digging in of heels seems to lack any diplomacy, democracy and regard for individuals. It’s really quite sad that a good and helpful idea can be sullied by such lack of foresight!