Woman making keepsakes in memory of the deceased secures artists’ tax break after appealing Revenue decision

Avril Riordan successfully argued to Tax Appeals Commission that Revenue’s view of her work incorrect

A Limerick woman who uses the clothing of people who have died to make cushions, blankets and teddy bears as keepsakes for their families has been granted the artists’ tax exemption after making a case to the Tax Appeals Commission.

The exemption allows those who qualify to earn up to €50,000 per year tax-free from their artistic endeavours.

Avril Riordan, who runs Memories Forever by Avril, was initially refused the exemption by Revenue. She appealed to the commission arguing that the items she makes by hand are akin to works of art as they are made “through the use of her imagination, creativity and artistic skill”.

Ms Riordan said the creation of the pieces was a “sensitive process” and that the purpose of her work was “to capture, safeguard and preserve memories and to honour the person whose clothing is used and who is being remembered”.


She describes her creations, which also include throws and fabric wall hangings, as “a form of emotional support to families who are bereaved or grieving”. She has also made similar pieces in memory of pets.

Ms Riordan argued that her work fell into the category for paintings and sculptures. Revenue disagreed, saying pieces of art needed to be “generally recognised as having cultural or artistic merit” to qualify for the exemption and that it sometimes liaises with the Arts Council to determine this.

Revenue said it did not mean to “disparage” Ms Riordan’s work when refusing the request for an exemption.

In her appeal to the commission, Ms Riordan said the stuffed toys she sells were all handmade and each one took three-four hours to make.

In its ruling, the commission said a sculpture does not only include works of art carved from stone, wood or metal but “also includes the creation of a three-dimensional art object which is worked into existence by joining, modelling or assembling other materials or objects”. Based on this definition, it ruled that Ms Riordan’s creations fall into this category for the purposes of the exemption.

The commission noted many people hang her creations on their walls “like a picture”. It also said the works could not be replicated on mass and were individual to each grieving family. It said the works were “original and creative” and that it also had “cultural and artistic method”.

“The work is created to capture, safeguard and preserve memories and to honour the person being remembered. A quilt, throw, cushion or toy of this nature is incomparable to a scaled production available for sale in a home furnishings store,” it found.

Ms Riordan welcomed the ruling, saying the items she creates are “unique” and “can’t be mass produced or bought in a shop”.

“I fought my point and, thankfully, won. The process took a few months but I was able to get my side across in an online interview in the appeal,” she said.

The artists’ exemption scheme was introduced by then minister for finance Charles Haughey in 1969 to encourage struggling artists to remain in Ireland. The inclusion of a number of former politicians and sports stars on the list for their biographies, including Bertie Ahern, Ruairí Quinn, Michael Healy-Rae, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, led to calls to reform the scheme in favour of artists genuinely in need of the tax break.

Revenue told the Department of Finance in 2015 that it was in favour of scrapping the scheme as it was inequitable and no longer helping “struggling artists”. At the time, the department ruled out abolishing the tax break because of its relatively modest cost to the exchequer, usually €10 million-€15 million a year.