Revenue brought to book on exemption scheme

Thu, Jan 3, 2013, 00:00

Background:Arts Council argues its role in assessing books for exemption is being undermine

When is a non-fiction book a work of cultural or artistic merit?

New correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed the level of exasperation within the Arts Council about both the number and type of non-fiction books granted the artist’s exemption.

The council said its role in assessing the validity of non-fiction books was being undermined by the granting of tax exemption status to “ghost written sports biographies” and “political memoirs”.

The guidelines for the artist’s exemption were brought into place in 1973.

They exempt artists from paying tax on the proceeds of original works, though a cap of €40,000 was placed on the measure in 2011.

The issue of what non-fiction books should be eligible has been contentious for years. The Revenue Commissioners guidelines state that non-fiction books should be considered if they are on an artistic or cultural theme such as a biography or autobiography of a writer or painter.

Even then they can only qualify if they are a “pioneering work casting new light on its subject matter or changing the generally accepted understanding of the subject matter”.

Though neither political or sporting books are mentioned in the guidelines, the former taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was granted a tax exemption for his ghost-written political autobiography.

Sportspeople including Irish rugby out-half Ronan O’Gara, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, GAA manager Mick O’Dwyer and pundit George Hook have also received the exemption, though the Arts Council does not believe sports books should qualify.

The misgivings are contained in correspondence from the Arts Council to the Revenue Commissioners.

Eligibility

The Arts Council advises the Revenue Commissioners on whether a book should be eligible. It also provides expert advice to them in the event of an appeal by an author.

Between January 2011 and October 2012 the council advised that the authors of more than 130 non-fiction books should not be considered eligible for the exemption.

One of those books was Ireland rugby international Donncha O’Callaghan’s autobiography, Joking Apart.

Between 2004 and last year there were 46 appeals by writers who were judged to be ineligible for the tax exemption by the Arts Council and the majority (56 per cent) succeeded in their appeals.

In August 2011 the arts director of the Arts Council, Stephanie O’Callaghan, wrote to the Revenue Commissioners saying that they no longer had the resources to supply an expert witness every time there was an appeal and would have to resort to written assessments.

Complaint

Last September she sent an internal email within the Arts Council complaining that “all manners of appeals are upheld” including one for cookbook Irish Seaweed Kitchen.

She argued that the involvement of the Arts Council in the process might give the impression that they agreed that sports autobiographies and political memoirs should be deemed eligible for the tax exemption.

In other internal correspondence, the Arts Council’s head of literature, Sarah Bannan, said the appeals commissioner did not agree that a non-fiction work must come, according to the guidelines, “fully within the terms of reference of the Arts Council encompassing the subjects of fiction-writing, drama, music, film, dance, mime or visual arts and related commentaries by bona fide artists”.