Uproar as GAA/IFA funding is cut for coaching programme

Newry City boss Darren Mullen has lambasted the decision to cut coaching funds for schools
By Brendan Crossan

NEWRY City manager Darren Mullen has slated the decision to cut sports funding for schoolchildren and blamed the lack of a functioning government in the north for the programme’s demise.

The Department of Education announced earlier this week that their Curriculum Sports Programme will end this month due to “pressures on the education budget”, which will have a serious impact on coaching jobs at the GAA and Irish Football Association.

Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches and the IFA 28 for over 400 schools, with 36,000 children benefiting from the coaching in 2016/’17.

Mullen has attended several coaching seminars in schools around Newry and could see at first hand the impact the various programmes were having on the children.

On Twitter, he said: ‘[It’s] disgraceful that funding can’t be found to continue it. My own solution would be to take it out of the salaries set aside for our dormant MLAs.”

Around £1.3m had been spent by the Department of Education annually and over £11m since the introduction of the scheme in 2010.

The sports programme has been rescued twice with emergency funds in 2017 and earlier this year but it will end on October 31.

“To take this funding away, to me, seems very short-sighted especially given the fact that it benefits so many kids.

“I would have my own kids coming home and telling me how much they enjoyed the coaching they were getting in the school,” Mullen added.

“Because I’ve seen the benefit of it and the enjoyment the kids get out of it, I can understand how much it will impact on the schools. Something should be done to save it. It just seems too easy to cut.”

In a statement, the IFA expressed their disappointment at the end of the highly successful coaching programme.

“The Irish FA has proudly delivered the award-winning Curriculum Sports Programme in partnership with our colleagues at Ulster GAA. More than 50 staff across the two sports have positively impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of pupils.

“The Association is therefore hugely disappointed to receive confirmation that no in-year funding will be made available for the Programme by the Department of Education. Research shows that active children are healthier children.

“The Irish FA and Ulster GAA coaches involved in this programme have provided a vital service both for schools and for broader society. Half the children the coaches work with are girls and they teach pupils from P1-P4 fundamental movement skills and help inspire a life-long love of sport.”

The statement added: “The Irish FA, along with our colleagues in Ulster GAA, will continue to lobby for the continuation of this programme in the 2019/’20 financial year and we will impress on key decision makers the positive benefits that this programme has for pupils, teachers and schools right across Northern Ireland.”

Mullen added: “Until the Assembly sorts itself out, there doesn’t seem to be a long-term plan for it.”

A spokesman for Ulster GAA said on Wednesday night: ‘‘Ulster GAA and the Irish FA have worked tirelessly, in partnership, over the last 11 years to deliver the award-winning Curriculum Sports Programme in primary schools.

‘‘Over the course of the programme more than 50 coaches from the two sports have developed the physical literacy skills of thousands of children each year.

‘‘It is extremely disappointing to hear that the Department of Education has been unable to find additional in-year funding to continue the programme.

‘‘We are well aware of the need to introduce children to physical activity as early as possible in life to tackle many of today’s societal problems such as obesity and mental health issues.  We have also worked with our colleagues in the IFA to assist teachers to deliver the PE Curriculum to their pupils.

Both Ulster GAA and the Irish FA will continue to push for the retention of the programme in the 2019/20 financial year, in the hope that the positive benefits of the initiative to schools will be rightly recognised.’’

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