Savage £1 million cut to Sport Northern Ireland budget
She's one of our golden girls, but now Kelly Gallagher and a host of other stars will be hit by budget cuts#
Sport NI has been informed by the Northern Ireland Executive that its budget next year will be cut by over £1m.
The Belfast Telegraph can exclusively reveal that Sport NI, the leading public body for the development of sport here, is losing a whopping 11.2% of its budget, coming on the back of being told to make savings of £400,000 in the current financial year.
The savage cuts are a body blow to the organisation, which has played a hugely influential role in many of the recent triumphs for Northern Ireland sport on a global scale, helping its Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI) athletes such as history making Winter Paralympics skiing champion Kelly Gallagher, Commonwealth Games boxing gold medal winners Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, Paralympic legends Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth, world champion cyclist Martyn Irvine and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist judo star Lisa Kearney achieve tremendous success.
The loss of £1,037,000 in 2015 won't just have an impact on Northern Ireland's ability to deliver on the big stage.
Sport NI has confirmed it will also seriously affect grassroots sport and its programmes to increase the participation of youngsters in sport with the award winning Activ 8 programme, which encouraged over 100,000 schoolchildren to play sport, already a casualty of the cuts.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Sport NI chief executive Antoinette McKeown said that the "incredibly disappointing" news was relayed to it by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which has been hit hardest out of all the Stormont departments with the latest round of cuts.
"The department has confirmed an 11.2% cut on the sport budget for next year, which in financial terms is £1,037,000, so it is a substantial cut in our budget," said Ms McKeown.
"It's incredibly disappointing in a year when we were hoping to bring forward a really strong new strategy which will now be disrupted.
"The DCAL Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has been supportive of sport and supportive of Sport NI and is very happy with our new strategy, but cannot protect us from the Executive cuts that have gone right across the board.
"We realise the situation that the economy is in and some of the decisions the Northern Ireland Executive have to take, but we want to give some leadership to the sports sector.
"For others it may be easy to see sport as simply an add on, but we look at the hugely positive impact sport has in Northern Ireland from grassroots level to the elite level.
"It is really important that we protect sport because of the personal achievements, rewards and joy it can bring.
"Sport unites people in Northern Ireland in a way nothing else does and is a touchstone for local communities.
"It also has the power to help and benefit areas like health and education. We know for example that sport prevents people from getting involved in crime and it can contribute to increased academic performance and self esteem for young people in schools. Encouraging people to take part in sport can play a positive role for people's health and combat obesity, which is such a big problem with young people.
"Sport benefits mental health as well. We have just launched a really important Sport and Mental Health project, but with the cuts we don't currently have the money to mainstream that now, and yet our new website has been inundated with calls for help in relation to that subject.
"Then there is the fantastic impact sport can have on our economy as seen with our golfing success and the Giro d'Italia being here.
"And, of course, what sports stars like the Sport NI-funded Kelly Gallagher, Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan have achieved recently is a great source of pride for all of us. Now, though, there's a shadow on our abilities to sustain and support our sports people going forward."
- Poll: Who is Northern Ireland's greatest ever sports star? From George Best to Alex Higgins and Rory McIlroy to Tony McCoy - Vote now