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Carl Frampton and Paddy Barnes show the power of sport: Caral Ni Chuilin

By Steven Beacom

The power of sport can save lives, according to Northern Ireland Executive Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

And to illustrate her point, she praises two Ulster boxers, world champion Carl Frampton and Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes, who have had a positive impact on her north Belfast community.

The Sports Minister said: "We have lost two young people in north Belfast in the last couple of weeks to suicide. I have been talking to friends of those two kids and they said that sport is going to help them through this difficult time and that it can help them heal.

"I knew coming into this department the reach and potential that sport had and I believe sport is something that can save lives.

"In north Belfast we have two great boxers and two great ambassadors in Paddy Barnes and Carl Frampton, who are from different parts of the community and two of the most deprived areas in Belfast. They are really good role models for kids in the area and across the board.

"I also know that trainers like Billy McKee in the Midland Boxing Club and Gerry Storey and Paddy Fitzsimmons, also in north Belfast, are keeping kids safe and for kids who are struggling with mental health problems they are proving a great help. They have the skills to communicate with these kids be it through training them or talking to them and keeping an eye on them.

"It's also great to see so many young girls getting involved in soccer and GAA and seeing them running about in Crusaders, Glentoran and Cliftonville tops as well as their GAA county tops. Their coaches are using their communication skills to build teams and build the individual. We are lucky to have that dedication which can help our children no end.

"This is an element to sport that should be acknowledged," added Ni Chuilin, who says the 2012 Olympic Games Torch Relay is high on her list of memorable moments from her first years as Minister.

Meanwhile, on the ongoing investigation into 'leadership issues' following the suspension of Sport NI Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown, Ni Chuilin said: "There are processes there that need to happen. It is concerning because I'm sure people are wondering what is going on, but one way or another we will get to the bottom of all of this."

Yesterday, Sport Northern Ireland announced a new plan to invest £17.5m of its National Lottery funding into sports facility projects over the next five years.

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