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Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin joins calls for coaching jobs to be saved at schools

The scheme was provided under contract by the GAA and IFA

ENDING funding for a coaching scheme will severely damage sporting projects in schools, it has been warned.

The Curriculum Sports Programme, which involves gaelic and soccer coaches visiting primary schools, is due to end this month.

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

Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches, and the Irish FA 28, to work with about 450 schools a year. About £1.3 million is spent by the Department of Education annually.

The scheme was provided under contract by the GAA and IFA and the department has invested a total of £10.3m. Money is due to end in October.

The department's permanent secretary Derek Baker has met political parties who are urging funding to continue. However, overall budgets are being slashed across the system meaning cuts must be made.

Financial pressures on the education budget in 2017/18 means the continued annual cost £1.3m is only possible if there are reductions elsewhere across early years, youth and schools.

Last week, Eugene Young, the Ulster Council’s director of coaching and games development, urged parties to strike a deal to save the Gaelic and soccer staff.

He said that as the “arguments go on”, Ulster GAA and Irish Football Association coaches face the imminent prospect of unemployment.

Staff were told on Thursday that their roles will end in just over three weeks’ time.

Now, Sinn Féin culture arts and sport spokeswoman Sinéad Ennis said she believed a unified and common-sense approach was needed by all parties in lobbying the department to reverse the cuts.

"Myself and party colleagues have met with the IFA and the GAA Ulster Council to discuss how to further co-ordinate our opposition to these cuts," she said.

"Cutting the Sports Development Grant would have a direct impact on the employment of 50 GAA and IFA coaches through the Curriculum Sports Programme. It would also 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."

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty, who has also been involved in efforts to extend the scheme, said that “with the collapse of the Stormont executive, these roles have been cast aside as collateral damage”.

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