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Use `confidence and supply' cash to fund GAA coaches, urges union

INTO northern secretary Gerry Murphy

MONEY gifted to the north's education system by Westminster should be used to save a coaching scheme for schoolchildren, teachers have urged.

Part of a £20 million pot secured through a DUP and Conservative Party deal could save the Curriculum Sports Programme, it has been claimed.

The scheme, which involves Gaelic and soccer coaches visiting primary schools, will run out of cash next month.

It has been operating for a decade and thousands of children have taken part.

Extra money to save it has been found on two separate occasions since the collapse of the executive in January last year.

But any further extension is likely now to need ministerial sign off, following a recent high court ruling that cast doubt on major decisions being taken by civil servants.

Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches, and the Irish FA 28, to work with about 450 schools a year.

In 2017/18, £20m was given to health and education through the `confidence and supply' deal sealed between the Conservatives and DUP to keep the UK government afloat.

INTO northern secretary Gerry Murphy said this money could save the scheme.

"It's a sad state of affairs that we find ourselves in. We have a Department of Education that is committed to pupil wellness, a society increasingly concerned about childhood obesity and a programme in schools that addresses both these issues successfully yet for the sake of a few pounds in overall budgetary terms is to be wound up," Mr Murphy said.

"This is symptomatic of the dire financial situation the education sector finds itself in. Should this programme be cut how long before the after school clubs, the breakfast clubs, Sure Start and all the other additional programmes designed to support our vulnerable children follow suit?

"Education funding must be sorted. A failure to do so will be much more expensive than the cost of the Curriculum Sports Programme. The department has the confidence and supply money available and this is certainly another educational pressure."

Sinn Féin's culture, arts and sports spokeswoman Sinéad Ennis urged a cross-departmental approach to ensure pupils could continue to avail of the programme.

Ms Ennis was among a delegation that met the GAA and IFA to discuss its viability, warning its closure would put jobs at risk.

"The reality is that the impact of Tory/DUP austerity is being felt by some of the most vulnerable in society," she said.

"Any cut under this Tory/DUP budget would have a severely damaging impact on sporting projects within our local schools and to the tens of thousands of children who practically benefit from this funding.

"There should be a cross-departmental approach to ensuring that school children can avail of the Curriculum Sports Programme and I would urge the department to apply for in year funds in the October and January monitoring rounds."

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