Portrait of an artist: Bertie Ahern does publicity for his book

THE Revenue Commissioners automatically granted tax-exempt status to a book by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern despite refusing at least 14 other authors in the past few years.

The Revenue sanctioned Ahern's artists' exemption even though the Arts Council has said that political books should not be included.

It has now emerged that the Arts Council wasn't asked for an opinion on Ahern's book and whether it justified inclusion under the scheme.

Had the Revenue Commissioners declined the application by the former taoiseach, he would have been forced to go through the Revenue Appeals process, where his brother-in-law Ronan Kelly is one of the two adjudicators.

The Arts Council said it could not comment on the former taoiseach's biography as it had not been consulted about it. It said: "The guidelines are very clear that biographies and autobiographies do not qualify for the artists' exemption. The only exception to this is if the book encompasses… the subjects of fiction writing, drama, music, film, dance, mime or visual arts, and related commentaries by bona-fide artists.

"The Arts Council is asked regularly throughout the year by the Revenue Commissioners for a recommendation on whether or not a particular publication falls within the guidelines of the scheme."

In recent years, the Revenue Appeals Commissioners has made several rulings in favour of plaintiffs, and against the recommendations of the Arts Council.

The Arts Council has strongly opposed extending the artists' exemption to many non-fiction books including political memoirs and true-crime books.

In dozens of cases over the past few years, it has written to the Revenue Commissioners arguing that many non-fiction books do not fall within guidelines for the artistic exemption.

A biography of the American philanthropist Chuck Feeney by writer Conor O'Clery, for instance, should not have been granted tax-free status, it said.

The Arts Council also sent a letter to the Revenue Commissioners stating that a biography of Mary Robinson by Dr John Horgan should not have been granted tax exemption.

The Revenue said it was not in a position to comment specifically on Ahern's exemption status as it was a personal tax matter.

A statement said: "As you are aware, [the Revenue] cannot comment on Mr Ahern's, or any individual's, tax affairs. However, [we] can confirm that since January 2006 all individuals who have applied for the income-tax exemption in the category of autobiography and biography have been granted the exemption This is in accordance with the law and guidelines that govern this matter."

Details released by the Revenue Commissioners show that non-fiction books are frequently refused tax-exempt status. According to its own figures, 14 authors were refused the artist's exemption during the period between 2006 and 2008.