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Museums could lose ‘interesting and important’ pieces due to cultural donations tax cap

Those who donate items get tax relief worth 80 per cent of the value of the heritage item

A scheme allowing wealthy owners of culturally significant artworks, books and artefacts to get tax relief in return for donations to State galleries, libraries and museums is so oversubscribed that “interesting and important” acquisitions may be lost, Government officials have said.

During a pre-budget meeting with the Department of Finance in October, Minister for Arts Catherine Martin asked that for the cap on the Section 1003 heritage donation scheme to be increased from €6 million to €25 million.

This, she said, was “in recognition of the increased demand to avail of relief under the scheme and the erosion in value of the scheme due to inflation in the period since the current limit [of €6 million] was set”.

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath opted to raise the cap on the scheme from €6 million to €8 million in Budget 2024.


In a pre-budget letter to the Department of Finance, following the meeting between McGrath and Martin, Department of Arts officials said a number of significant donations were already at risk because the scheme’s €6 million threshold for 2023 had been reached.

These included an offer of “several important paintings” for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, worth a combined €8 million; material of “national importance” relating to the independence era which had been offered to the National Library with a value of about €5 million; and a collection of “medieval treasures” worth about €10 million which had been offered to the Hunt Museum in Limerick.

Decisions on accepting all three donations have now been postponed until 2024 because applications for donations adding up to €7.75 million were already being assessed for 2023. These included a donation to Castletown House in Co Kildare, owned by the Office of Public Works, valued by the donor at more than €2.4 million, and another to the National Museum of Ireland valued at some €900,000 by its donor.

Among those who have previously donated heritage items to national cultural institutions in return for tax relief under the scheme are businessmen Denis O’Brien and Lochlann Quinn, who respectively donated paintings by Rubens and Teniers to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Well-known writers and their families, including Brian Friel, Neil Jordan, Edna O’Brien, Seamus Heaney and JP Donleavy, also received tax breaks for donating archives to the National Library.

Those who donate items get tax relief worth 80 per cent of the value of the heritage item. Revenue hires independent experts to determine the artefact’s market value.

In its pre-budget submission, Martin’s department said the scheme was increasingly important when it came to securing significant items for the State because “the growth in sale value of art and antiquities has greatly exceeded the general level of inflation since 2002″, when the €6 million cap was introduced.

“It is disabling that the principal channel for acquisitions has inadequate resources to meet the reasonable expectations of donors in relation to funding and the timely processing of possible donations,” it said.

The most valuable donation in 2022 was a Sir John Lavery painting, A Garden in France, which was provided to the National Gallery of Ireland and valued at €2.647 million. The identity of the donor was not disclosed.

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