Spring Edition 2017

Supporting historic houses

Westport House, Co Mayo

THE Minister for the Arts and Heritage, Heather Humphreys, is undertaking a review of the current tax relief to owners of ‘historic’ properties and is inviting  submissions from concerned parties before the end of March. According  to the Minister, there are up to 2,000 historic properties across the country which are not just historically significant but are also important assets to local communities which can help to drive tourism and economic activity. But over the past number of years, there has been an average of only 150 owners of such properties in receipt of tax relief at a total cost to the Revenue of approximately €3 million per annum.

To qualify for tax relief, a property must have a Determination from the OPW that it is intrinsically of significant scientific, historical, architectural or aesthetic interest and a Determination from the Revenue that reasonable access to the building is afforded to the public and the owner’s tax affairs are in order. In effect this means that access is afforded for at least 60 days in the year with viewing times of at least four hours each day. So why have less than 10% of the owners been availing of this current tax relief?

There are two fairly distinct categories of owners here which the Minister’s review should consider separately. The first group are the owners of genuinely ‘historic’ or at least very substantial properties whose overall position has improved in recent years thanks to the involvement of the Irish Heritage Trust, the Irish Landmark Trust and of private investment in such historic houses as Westport House, Humewood, Lyons House and Lissadell, although a cap has been put on the tax relief for any one property.

However the second and more numerous grouping is that of period houses whose owners are sometimes defined as asset rich but income poor and whose properties are often located at some distance from the main tourists routes. The present tax reliefs are of little benefit to many of these who may be occupying a large house but have insufficient income to repair and maintain it. While acknowledging that the owners must supply some ‘public benefit’ if they want to get any relief at all, the challenge for the authorities is to develop a more flexible system that could establish a wider set of qualifications to meet the Revenue’s requirements. These should be broad enough to allow at least 500 owners of properties of significant aesthetic interest to qualify for tax relief and/or any particular grants that may become available. The Irish Heritage Trust (see Irish Arts Review Winter 2016) has found that the key to its work in the regeneration of such historic estates as Fota, Strokestown and now Johnstown Castle, is community involvement. Thereby lies the best hope for the owners of smaller period houses who could broaden the ‘public benefit’ aspect of their tax relief claims through wider participation in community tourist activity.

John Mulcahy

In the Spring 2017 Edition of the Irish Arts Review (Subscribe here):

Return to form Sculptor Kevin Francis Gray returns to his home town of Armagh for a mid-career retrospective at the Market Place Gallery in March, writes Riann Coulter
Reality check Donal Maguire discusses the work of Gerry Davis, winner of the Hennessy Portrait Prize, whose portrait Seán is on view at the National Gallery of Ireland until 26 March
The last wilderness  Michaële Cutaya introduces new work from Galway-based Swedish artist Cecila Danell, who explores notions of national identity with wit and invention, at the Galway Arts Centre
Iomhramh Gerry Walker finds traces of poetry and music in a new suite of paintings from Dermot McNevin at Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, County Meath

Shadows of Sodeisha Audrey Whitty explores the avant-garde ceramic movement ‘Sodeisha’ through the work of Irish practitioners and their Japanese counterparts on view at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks

Ireland at Venice An artistic bewitching of the established rule of law is the subject of Jesse Jones’ art project for this year’s Venice Biennale, writes Sarah Kelleher

Needlework Mic Moroney samples the heady mix of etching on offer at Dublin’s tatto parlours from heavy metal to bespoke creations
Talking heads ‘Portraits are so often surface. A portrait has a job to do, a defined purpose’ Colin Davidson tells Brian McAvera
Of birds and beasts Eoghan Nolan visits sculptor Ronan Halpin at home in Achill as he prepares for exhibitions in Westport and Dublin this spring
Beacon in the dark Photographer Mike Bors shares his impressions of the Irish Lights Collection created by Robert Ball and donated to the National Photographic Archive
Temples to Mammon The architectural style evolves but the message remains constant, writes Frank McDonald in his review of bank architecture
Spirit level Deirdre Kelly focuses on writer and social reformer AE Russell’s dream paintings as Armagh County Museum hosts an exhibition marking his 150th anniversary.
Time and tide Julian Campbell selects a number of County Clare coastal views to mark the centenary of one of Ireland’s most prolific landscape artists, Nathaniel Hone
No hot house flower Artist and writer Edith Blake led a long and eventful life, here Peter Murray shares anecdotes from her diaries illustrated by her unpublished botanical art
History today The National Museum of Ireland represents the most significant of our cultural institutions, writes Kevin V Mulligan in his assessment of this architectural gem
In favour of follies Sandra Andrea O’Connell assesses the achievements of conservation body Irish Landmark Trust as they mark their quarter century
Between art and science Matthew Jebb explores the ways in which the National Botanic Gardens bridges the art-science divide
Johnstown Castle looks to the future Peter Pearson highlights plans to improve the fabric and content of Johnstown Castle, County Wexford’s greatest surviving country estate

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