Politicians and sports people ‘should not get’ tax relief aimed at artists

Exemption not intended for ‘career politicians’ or various stars promoting their memoirs

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said it is an ‘abuse’ of the system that high earners benefit from the exemption.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said it is an ‘abuse’ of the system that high earners benefit from the exemption.


Career politicians and highly paid sports people writing their memoirs should not get significant tax exemptions aimed at “starving artists in the garret”, the Seanad has been told.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said it is an “abuse” of the system that high earners benefited from the exemption. The scheme was introduced in 1969 by then minister for finance Charlie Haughey to encourage creative endeavours.

The relief allows income from works of “cultural or artistic merit” to be earned free of income tax for the year in which the claim is made.

Senator Mullen called for changes to the relief that would exclude “public representatives, Oireachtas Members \[TDs and Senators], retired public servants in receipt of a pension of €20,000 or more, or those who have earned at least €100,000 in any of the preceding three tax years”.

He said everyone is familiar with the cultural image of the “artist starving in the garret for the sake of their work”.

“This is clearly what the artists’ tax exemption was all about. It was not meant to be about career politicians or highly paid sports people writing their memoirs and getting a significant tax exemption for it.”

Under the scheme, writers, playwrights, composers, painters and sculptors can apply for an exemption from income tax on earnings from an approved work for one year of up to €50,000. The most that can be saved in tax in one year through the scheme is €20,000.

In a debate in the Seanad on the Finance Bill which gives effect to the provisions of the budget, the Galway Senator quoted Haughey who said the relief was designed to address the “sad history of our creative people going abroad for economic reasons or from what they felt was an unsympathetic or even hostile climate”.

His recommendation was ruled out of order as a “charge on the people” but Mr Mullen said it would actually save the State money.

Minister of State for Finance Seán Fleming said he listened very closely and would take on board everything the Senator had said.

Successful careers

Mr Mullen said artists’ income is often low and infrequent and they should not be forced to emigrate. But he said that for at least the last 15 years “the exemption has been availed of by individuals who are in no way low-paid or impecunious. In addition, many who qualify are not even artists in the true sense of the word. The exemption is being availed by a small number . . . who derive large incomes from other sectors, in many cases directly from the taxpayer. They either have or have had successful careers in other sectors and yet they qualify for this exemption.”

Mr Mullen said it was difficult to see “how political memoirs or collections of amusing political anecdotes would qualify as pioneering works that cast new light on the subject matter of politics”.

They were of value as “they inform the general population about matters of political and historical merit. But they could hardly be described as having artistic merit.” And he believed the same could be said about sports books.

He added that “I do not intend to be a snob about this. I get the cultural merit of sport but we are still a long way from the intention behind the artist’s exemption.”