State papers: Phil Coulter US tour like ‘midge in a hurricane’ claimed Primark founder

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Ex-Irish Finance Minister John Bruton reacted angrily to a claim by Primark founder, Arthur Ryan, that Aer Lingus’ sponsorship of an orchestral tour of the United States by Phil Coulter in 1987 was like “a midge flying into a hurricane” in terms of the benefits it would yield to Ireland.

According to state papers newly-released under the 30-year-rule, Mr. Ryan, the boss of both Penneys Stores and Primark, wrote to Minister Bruton in January 1987, to criticise the national airline’s support for the Derry song-writer and composer’s three month tour in America.

“Surely someone like me travelling to London at least once a week would be a lot better off getting £5 off their London ticket, rather than subsidising a three-month tour of an unknown orchestra, for one night stands around the US,” wrote the clothing tycoon.

In a letter to the Minister Mr. Ryan went on to claim that the benefits of the state’s involvement in the American tour were “for the individual concerned and not Aer Lingus”.

“What can you gain from doing one night stands in the US? It is like a midge flying into a hurricane,” he said, before warning: “We are definitely as a result of this, looking at Ryanair and diverting as much of our business as possible to them”.

The future Fine Gael Taoiseach reacted sharply to Mr. Ryan stating that “advertising and promotion campaigns are a matter of individual taste, as is Phil Coulter’s music”.

He wrote: “You, obviously, are more attracted by the lean, no-nonsense (and no breakfast) corporate image of Ryanair than Aer Lingus’ self-image as patron of the arts.”

He suggested, however, that if Fine Gael realised its objective of the part-privatisation of Aer Lingus things could change.

“If we get an opportunity to put our policies into practice, there may be less largesse for the travelling bard but a better deal for the travelling businessman,” he wrote.