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Sports stars write their way onto tax perk list

Pop impresario Louis Walsh, former soccer star Paul McGrath, ex-rugby international Moss Keane and 1956 Olympic gold medallist Ronnie Delaney are amongst the latest "artists" to be granted tax-free status by the Revenue Commissioners.

The 105 new additions to the tax perk list include 46 painters, 27 authors, 12 playwrights and screen writers, ten sculptors, seven musicians, two illustrators and an artistic photographer.

The writers section is dominated by journalists including RTE's chief reporter Charlie Bird, rugby writer and panelist George Hook and the newly appointed Press Ombudsman Prof John Horgan.

X-Factor judge Louis Walsh, manager of boybands like Westlife and Boyzone and journalist Kathryn Rogers will pay no tax on earnings for their joint effort Fast Track to Fame, described as an A-Z of the music business that is "essential reading" for pop wannabes seeking superstardom.

Paul McGrath has been granted the tax-free perk for his no holds barred Back from the Brink account of growing up in Dublin orphanages, soccer stardom and struggles with alcoholism.

Two other sports books, Ronnie Delaney's account of his childhood and athletic success Staying the Distance and Moss Keane's Rucks, Mauls and Gaelic Football are also deemed artistic and tax-free.

Charlie Bird and Kevin Rafter are on the list for This is Charlie Bird, the journalist's account of his life to date, while former Labour Party TD Professor John Horgan is there for his biography of Mary Robinson. George Hook got the tax-free 'artistic' tax exemption introduced by the late Taoiseach Charlie Haughey for his book George Hook -- Time Added On.

Other journalists on the list include Sunday Independent columnist Alan Ruddock for his biography of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary. Journalist Conor O'Clery got the exemption for his The Billionaire who wasn't: How Chuck Feeney made and gave away a fortune without anyone knowing. Justine McCarthy (Murnaghan) got it for biography of the President, Mary McAleese -- The Outsider and Frank McNally for Xenophobe's guide to the Irish.

South African Campbell Brett will pay no tax on sales of his thriller Kabuki nor will Martha Long for He Sold me for a Few Cigarettes, her best-selling account of a traumatic childhood.

Other recipients of tax-free status for their work include Cian Foley for The Deise Dictionary of Waterford Slang Boy, Tony McCullagh for ghost writing Always Me, a biography of Dickie Rock, and Fiona Tierney for What What Blew Into The Zoo.

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Colm Bairead, director of the short film, Mac an Athar (His Father's Son), that picked up the Best Director Award at the Savannah Film Festival, is listed for a screenplay and the scriptwriting section includes Steven Stubbs, one of the writers behind RTE's Roaring Twenties, a comedy set among twentysomethings in Dublin flatland.

Artists and sculptors who availed of the tax free scheme include painters Hugh Frazer, Clodagh Gale, Corry McMahon, Deveren Bowman and Mary Neeson.

The scheme is unique in the world for allowing artists to keep every cent of their earnings, though they do pay PRSI. It was introduced by the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1969 to show that the country valued creative people. Thousands of artists have benefited from the scheme which cost the Exchequer almost €138m in the five years from 1998-99 to 2002.

The tax concession can be a huge perk. One mystery artist -- thought to be one of the country's super-rich rock stars -- earned €10m in a year under the scheme without paying any tax. Beneficiaries of the scheme have included superstar rock groups like U2, the Corrs, Boyzone and Westlife, singers like Enya and Chris de Burgh and bestselling authors like Cecelia Ahern, daughter of the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

However, an amendment to the act confined earnings to a maximum of €250,000 per annum after which tax would have to become due. It is believed that was one of the reasons that U2 moved their principle business interests to Amsterdam where they can avail of a special tax exemption on royalties.

Although new entrants to the tax-free 'artists' list are now made public, a large number of beneficiaries remain anonymous because they availed of the scheme in the early years when their tax affairs were kept secret.

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