Great book: But is it art?
Internal Arts Council emails reveal a degree of frustration about the process.
In the past year the council has been waiting for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to approve new guidelines set by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan in December 2011. There has been correspondence between the two Ministers but no decision yet. The Department of Finance says one is imminent. A spokeswoman for Deenihan says the Minister is engaged in a “deliberative process” and that “no further comment can be made at this time”.
The Arts Council has told the Revenue Commissioners that it does not have the resources to provide an expert witness every time there is an appeal.
Toby Dennett, the head of artists’ supports at the Arts Council, says the appeals commissioner has been ignoring Appendix A of the guidelines and referring instead to the basic criteria of “artistic merit” and “creative and original”, concepts that are difficult to argue at appeal.
In an internal email seen by The Irish Times, Dennett says adverse judgments against the Arts Council’s advice “undermine the scheme as a whole and provide another stick for anyone intent on campaigning for its abolition”.
A letter from the director of the Arts Council, Orlaith McBride, to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, appears to indicate that Noonan is considering excluding all autobiographies and biographies from the process. The council would not favour such a move. It could mean works of merit, such as Edna O’Brien’s Country Girl and Terence Brown’s The Life of WB Yeats, could be excluded from the scheme.
Award for excellence
Poet Theo Dorgan, who is a member of the artists group Aosdána, which was established by the Arts Council in 1981, says Aosdána could provide the expert advice necessary to the Revenue Commissioners, to ease the burden on the Arts Council.
He maintains the artist exemption should in itself be an award for excellence similar to that which allows somebody to become a member of Aosdána, and not something that is given as a matter of course. “Not everybody who plays hurling can get an All-Ireland medal. If these things are not genuine honours, they risk becoming meaningless.”
Fellow poet and Aosdána member Anthony Cronin, who was critical of the decision to grant Ahern’s book tax exemption, says either the Revenue Commissioners should adhere to its own guidelines or the legislation should be changed.
“The Arts Council definition of cultural importance is perfectly right and the Revenue Commissioners are wrong. If somebody wants to come along and amend the act to include this, that and everything, that is fine, but the spirit of the original tax exemptions was on cultural importance, in the sense of which the Arts Council use the phrase.”
Exemption redemption Does the scheme work?
Correspondence published by The Irish Times this week highlighted misgivings within the Arts Council with regard to the number and type of nonfiction books that qualify for the artists’ exemption scheme, which relieves artists from paying tax on the proceeds of original works. (My own book availed of the scheme.) A cap of €40,000 was introduced in 2011.
Below, some Irish writers give their views on whether the scheme is fit for purpose.
DERMOT BOLGER Writer, former member of the Arts Council