Leading article

Saving our sports coaches

There are many strong reasons for hoping that our devolved administration can be restored in the near future but few are more compelling than the case of the dozens of sports coaches who face redundancy later this month.

The 53 staff have been employed by Ulster GAA and the Irish Football Association for the last decade to work in schools across the north and encourage pupils to develop their sporting skills.

However, the stalemate at Stormont has left budgetary issues unresolved to such a serious extent that funding for the project is due to run out on October 31.

As we have reported today and on Saturday, the coaches were placed on notice last week that, unless our main political parties can swiftly finalise a deal, they will all be made redundant on that date.

There will be widespread agreement with the firm message which has been expressed through social media by the GAA's respected director of coaching Eugene Young.

Mr Young pointedly presented images of political leaders Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill beside a gathering of the coaches and effectively said that the difference between the two groups was one would be paid without taking up their posts while the other individuals were working extremely hard but staring at the prospect of unemployment.

His conclusion was that, while the parties engaged in prolonged arguments at Parliament Buildings, the coaches were heading towards the dole queues in just over three weeks, and the time had come, as he directly suggested, to `get it sorted.'

There are many other vital issues, particularly in the key fields of health and education, which have to be addressed, but it appears that the GAA and IFA publicly funded staff are among the first to actually be confronted by an early crunch date which involves losing their jobs.

All the indications are that the gap between the two main parties is fully capable of being bridged, and, as this newspaper has repeatedly suggested, an understanding which allows the DUP to remove its objections to the Irish language act promised in the 2006 St Andrews agreement and includes Sinn Féin dropping its insistence that Ms Foster cannot return as first minister, would represent an entirely reasonable compromise.

Other matters must also be on the agenda, primarily moving permanently away from the culture of confrontation and disrespect which is in place at Stormont, but they may well evolve if a basic level of goodwill can be established on all sides.

It would be deeply disappointing if the first victims of the present stand-off were the committed and talented coaches who are due to be unnecessarily thrown on the the scrapheap at the end of the month and this is one deadline which at long last deserves to be observed.

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