Tone deaf would be the most generous description you could come up with for the British Foreign Office’s decision to have foreign secretary Liz Truss write an article for The Irish Times on the Northern Ireland Protocol, published last week.
Naturally, any communication from the British government outlining its position on Brexit and the protocol is normally a good thing.
But in this instance the timing of the article was particularly awful.
It was published within days of claims by a former senior British diplomat that Truss had made highly disparaging 19th century-era stereotypical remarks about the impact of Brexit on the Border here to a US think-tank in 2019.
The ex-diplomat said Truss told the audience Brexit would not have any serious impact in Ireland... it would merely “affect a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks”.
Truss has had an opportunity to deny or confirm that she made the remarks and neither has been forthcoming other than a quote from a source close to her saying she did “not recognise” the remarks.
Let’s leave aside the turnips and the sheer ignorance a comment like that would reflect. Truss presumably felt an article in an Irish newspaper would project the rationale or “reasonableness” of a British government position on the protocol which involves taking unilateral action.
In the article she emphasised the cross-community consent principle underpinning the Good Friday Agreement. No such cross-community consent was sought when it came to Brexit where a majority in Northern Ireland voted against it.
Truss went on to say the NI Protocol was agreed with the best of intentions, “but after 18 months of trying to make it work, it is clear the current arrangements are not sustainable”.
This is a very different narrative from that of our own Government which says the British side has not engaged with the proposed solutions put forward by the EU.
The article said the British government’s preference is to reach a negotiated solution and also declared that it will not be possible to resolve the issues in Northern Ireland on the basis of the EU’s existing mandate.
In a nutshell, the situation is that the EU is supposed to break open an agreed international treaty and re-negotiate it. Failure to do so will trigger unilateral legislation setting it aside.
And this is all being done for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, most of whom don’t have a fundamental problem with the protocol.
Those who do, by and large, voted for Brexit.
The DUP, in particular then, went on to vote against every form of Brexit put before the House of Commons, including Theresa May’s solution which would have avoided the need for this protocol.
Truss said the problems of the protocol “are baked into the existing legal text”. Unfortunately she is understating the matter with that sentence.
The problems of the protocol are baked into Brexit.
The protocol was always only ever the least worst option for all concerned. A British foreign secretary should know that.
More turnips anyone?
Dole, the world’s biggest fruit and vegetable distributor, took quite a hit in the first quarter of this year.
The company formed out of the merger of Total Produce and Dole Foods, is Dublin-based and run by executive chairman Carl McCann.
The company reported a fall-off in sales which it said was due to the cost of recalling bagged salads linked to a listeria outbreak in the US.
When combined with foreign exchange expenses, the cost was $112m (€104m). On an earnings call on Tuesday, management said the split in those costs was around 50:50 which means the listeria problem cost it around $56m.
Dole announced a voluntary recall of bagged salads products from two of its plants late last year. Food and Drink Administration (FDA) investigators were sent to multiple Dole processing facilities to conduct on-site inspections. The contaminated products had been sold under several brands in multiple states.
Dole detected the presence of listeria monocytogenes on equipment used in the harvesting of iceberg lettuce that was also used in finished products processed in Dole’s Springfield Ohio and California plants.
The facility in Ohio had previously been at the centre of a recall of bagged salads, back in 2015.
In 2016, a listeria outbreak forced Dole to shut down its Springfield facility for four months.
At that time the plant closure and recalls ended up costing the company $25.5m.
Combined with the $56m cost of this one, it brings a total cost of listeria to $81.5m since 2016.
According to the FDA, the listeria outbreak led to 18 total illnesses with 16 hospitalisations and three deaths.
The outbreak was declared by the FDA to be over in April and Dole will no doubt want to move on.
Management told analysts on a call the company had made good progress on the very difficult scenario that it had with the salad recall.
“Just a little bit unlucky that we had such a recall against the backdrop of an unprecedented world that we’re currently living in”, CEO Rory Byrne said. Not as unlucky as the ones who got sick!
Former Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney has jumped in with gusto to buy shares in the restaurant group he now runs.
Coveney, who is chief executive of SSP Group, purchased £1.6m (€1.9m) worth of shares in the company during the week.
The share purchase came a day after positive first-quarter results from the company which operates more than 2,800 branded catering and retail units at over 180 airports and 300 railway stations across 36 countries, mainly as a franchisee.
In the UK and Ireland, it operates units mainly at airports and railway stations under brand names including M&S Simply Food, Starbucks and Burger King.
It also has its own brands – such as Millie’s Cookies and Upper Crust.
On the positive side, the company said revenues were now back to around 80pc of pre-Covid levels.
This week the shares were trading at half their pre-Covid price, which suggests some good upside.
But pre-Covid was a different world. SSP warned about the problems of rising costs and labour shortages that are also driving up wage costs.
Any company so heavily dependent on airport and railway footfall would have been hit very hard by the Covid pandemic.
Equally, it stands to benefit strongly from the post-Covid rebound.
Unfortunately for Coveney, this rebound is coinciding with an inflationary crisis and rising raw material and energy costs.
Throw in labour shortages compounded by Brexit and it is a hard road back.
But the market is pleased.
SSP shares are up 17pc in the last week. Coveney bought his stock at 254p and by Thursday the shares were trading at 270p, which put him up £100,000 already.