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Bertie's book 'last straw' as right to artists' tax relief is curtailed

THE "handbrake has now been lifted up" and entitlement to the artists' tax relief has been somewhat curtailed -- with the publication of the Bertie Ahern autobiography appearing to be the last straw for the Arts Council, a leading barrister and tax adviser said yesterday.

Conor Kennedy told a conference in Dublin that while the income tax exemption for artists was regarded as an important feature in encouraging and retaining indigenous talent, its beneficial effects had been eroded over recent years as a result of what some call populist politics.

"While many autobiographies written by politicians, sports and media personalities -- usually with the assistance of ghost writers -- have qualified for the exemption, it was the publication of the autobiography of the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that appeared to be the last straw for the Arts Council and, as a result, the entitlement to the relief has been somewhat curtailed," he said.

The fact that Mr Ahern got the tax relief has already been criticised by author Anthony Cronin, who said the artist exemption scheme was being brought into disrepute by allowing ghosted autobiographies to qualify, and only works of genuine artistic merit should qualify.

Mr Kennedy, speaking at a Law, Literature and Translation conference in Trinity College Dublin, said the Revenue Commissioners published a list of artists who had qualified for the exemption, including Frederick Forsyth, John Simpson, Cecilia Ahern, Cathy Kelly and Sebastian Barry.

"However, for whatever reason, people like Seamus Heaney, Maeve Binchy, Roddy Doyle, Colm Toibin and Joseph O'Connor are not included on that list."

Reasons for that could be that they did not apply or qualify, which was unlikely, or they were not resident, or applied before April 21, 1998, he said.

"People like Ronan O'Gara, George Hook, have got an exemption but the handbrake has now been lifted," he said.

The total exemption to royalty income was €250,000 in 2007 but had fallen to €40,000 by 2011.

Speaking at the same conference, Trinity lecturer and poet Paul Horan said he had no regrets about the 2010 incident where he was arrested for writing poetry or "graffiti" on a pub wall, saying it was one of the best things that happened to him.

Mr Horan, who was arrested and cautioned for criminal damage, had been inscribing a verse on the side of the Tavern Pub in Carlow town, where he had been celebrating his 41st birthday.

The verse was one by Jonathan Swift about Carlow town, which read: "Small town, poor people; high church, low steeple."

Mr Horan described the incident as his personal epiphany.

He told the conference: "I was fairly happy, a little high maybe, a bit manic maybe? In truth, I was still grieving for my very dear friend Elaine Drummon, a UCC lecturer who died aged 42, barely four weeks previously."

Mr Horan said the story would make page two of the Sunday Independent the following day, then the Trinity News, and go global on the internet. He described his arrest as like a scene from The Savage Eye.

Garda 1: "What are you doing?"

Me: "Writing poetry, officer, what does it look like?"

Garda 1: "That's not poetry, that's graffiti."

Garda 2: "Criminal damage, actually."

"Feeling indignant, I responded: With respect officer, that there is the work of Jonathan Swift!"

Afterwards, he described himself as being in a state of embarrassment and remorse.

But as the story went global, he said: "Newspapers used to be yesterday's news and tomorrow's fish and chip supper wrappers. Not anymore. The internet makes sure that stories stay in circulation."

But he said: "I'm not complaining, in literary terms, you can't buy that kind of publicity."

Sunday Independent