Belfast Telegraph

Anger at 'sickening' cuts to 400 Northern Ireland primary schools' sports scheme

By Gareth Cross

A decision by the Department of Education to end sports coaching funding at over 400 Northern Ireland primary schools has been branded "sickening".

The scheme provided schools with a GAA or Irish Football Association (IFA) coach. Over 50 coaches were employed as part of the scheme.

A department spokesperson told the BBC that the scheme had been scrapped due to "pressures on the education budget" and that attempts to find the money from other departments had not been succesful.

The scheme had been running since 2007 and cost about £1.3m per year.

The department said that £11m had been invested in the programme since 2010.

Coaches provided an hour of football or GAA coaching to classes each week, with 36,000 pupils taking part in the scheme in 2016/17.

It was announced in October 2017 that the scheme would end, but it has continued to be funded until October of this year.

The Department of Education has now confirmed that the funding will end on October 31st.

It is understood the department would have needed £550,000 to continue the scheme until April 2019.

"The Department of Education recognises the contribution that the curriculum sports programme has made in helping to raise the confidence of young children and the support it provides to primary teachers in delivering PE," a spokesperson said.

"The programme was not specifically intended to support the development of either Gaelic games or soccer.

"However the pressures on the education budget mean further funding cannot be made available in 2018/19 without impacting other areas of the department's budget and increasing the risk of an overspend."

SDLP sports spokesperson and Armagh GAA All-Ireland winner Justin McNulty said the news was a major blow.

He said that the GAA and IFA were "totally maddened" at the decision.

"I am seething with anger, as are Ulster GAA and the IFA and as will be the coaches at hearing this news," the Newry and Armagh MLA said.

"The people who are failed most are the thousands of children who will be denied participation in this programme. Let there be no mistake where the blame lies here, right at the heart of our failed political process and our failed government.

"No silly slogans or gimmicky posters will be any good to the children impacted by this decision. I am extremely disheartened by this news."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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