Northern Ireland news

GAA and soccer coaching jobs in schools saved until March

More than 50 GAA and soccer coaching jobs at schools have been temporarily saved due to a fresh cash injection

MORE than 50 coaching jobs at schools have been given a reprieve after money was found for GAA and soccer staff.

The Curriculum Sports Programme, which operates in primary schools across the north, was due to end this month amid uncertainties over Stormont budgets.

But it will now run until the end of March after an additional £10 million was allocated to the Department of Education.

The coaching scheme costs around £1.3m a year.

The department confirmed last night that the extra money, which has come from the reallocation of funds across Stormont departments, will help support the scheme.

"This has allowed the Department to extend its support for the Curriculum Sports Programme until the end of the current financial year to cover the period from 1 November 2017 to 31 March 2018," a spokeswoman said.

However there is no guarantee that the scheme will continue to run after March.

Thousands of children have taken part in the programme, which has been running for a decade.

Ulster GAA provides 24 coaches, and the Irish FA 27, to work with about 450 schools a year.

In a joint statement, Ulster GAA chief executive Brian McAvoy and IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson said the funding news was a "great boost for our children and our schools".

"We thank the Department of Education and the Head of the Civil Service for listening to our concerns and for their efforts in finding additional finances at a time when budgets across government face significant challenges," they said.

"We also thank the politicians from all parties and other campaigners, including many schoolteachers, who have worked with us over the past number of months to help secure today's outcome."

SDLP Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty said he was "delighted" that the programme will receive a temporary reprieve.

"The Curriculum Sports Programme provides critical support to schools, assisting in the provision of coaching to over 40,000 pupils every year," he said.

He added: "Decisions of this nature place people in extremely challenging circumstances as their jobs remain under threat. This should never have happened. We need political leadership in departments to ensure threats like this are not repeated."

Sinn Féin South Down MLA Sinéad Ennis also welcomed the extra funding.

"This announcement will be great news to the schools, coaches and children who benefit from this scheme," she said.

She added: "Today's announcement alongside the £10 million being allocated to the Education Department will go some way to redressing the pressures on public services but the threat of Tory austerity continues to loom".

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