A recommendation by the Commission on Taxation that professional sports people, but not artists, writers and singers, should be allowed to qualify for tax relief has been criticised by author Patrick McCabe.
The commission concluded last week that there was a case for the retention of the relief for sports people who it described as "positive role models which younger people may seek to emulate". However, it recommended that the tax exemption for artists should be scrapped because it was unfair.
"If professional sports people should be allowed to qualify for tax relief because they encourage positive role models, the implication is that the arts do the opposite," McCabe said. "From William Butler Yeats to Séamus Heaney, there is plenty of evidence there are towering role models in the arts. I take exception to the implication that artists are not good role models. They are very hard working people, courageous people and they don't make much money most of the time."
McCabe, whose novels The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto were both shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction, also objects to the report's recommendation that the artist exemption had a deadweight effect, as those who benefited from it would have been involved in artistic activity anyway.
"I have nothing but the highest of respect for sports people and I object to any attempt to divide the arts and sports. They ought to have parity in any society. Anybody reading this statement with any kind of application will see that there is almost a casual disdain for artists," said McCabe.
A teacher before he moved into writing full-time, McCabe says he fears that this official attitude, which favours sport over the arts, could have an impact on children in our educational system.
"I taught for 20 years and in every class of 20 or 30 children, you always get three or four of a sensitive artistic bent. So what are they to do? Stand in the corner and feel shamed again? The point is that if Ireland is proud of its heritage, it will have to accept that artists are role models every bit as much as sports people. I make my living like any ordinary footballer. The important thing is that it's a labour just like anyone else's. It may not be better but it certainly isn't more invalid."