Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Cross-party delegation to seek permanent funding for schools coaching programme

A cross-party delegation led by Newry and Armagh SDLP MLA, Justin McNulty, and including various sports’ governing bodies is set to meet with the Department of Education’s Permanent Secretary, Derek Baker, to argue for the retention of the schools coaching programme –  a scheme provided by Ulster GAA and the Irish FA which sees Gaelic and soccer coaches provide coaching in primary schools throughout the north.  

About £1.3 million has been spent by the department annually since it first launched. 

The programme has been saved twice since the collapse of the Stormont executive in January last year, but with funding due to end next month, and the Stormont stalemate continuing,  the Department of Education says it needs a Stormont minister to approve the continuation of the scheme.

According to SDLP MLA Justin McNulty, Irish FA chief Patrick Nelson and Ulster GAA chief executive Brian McAvoy  will join  political representatives at the face-to-face discussions, to “press for a permanent resolution” to the funding issue.

Speaking about the upcoming meeting Mr McNulty hailed the Curriculum Sports Programme  “one of the most successful” such schemes delivered in local schools.

“I cannot speak highly enough of the programme, but don’t just take my word for it, talk to school principals, sports bodies and parents,” he said.

“The benefits to children participating in sport are vast. In an era of rising mental health issues in young people, as well as worrying figures around childhood obesity, the benefits of participation cannot be overstated. Sport opens doors of opportunity to young people that they may not get otherwise.”

Mr McNulty said he is “delighted” to have a cross-party consensus in supporting the programme, blaming the political instability at Stormont for placing the future of “this successful and positive programme in jeopardy.” 

“Since the collapse of the DUP / SF Executive the programme has faced numerous threats of closure and it has had a number of reprieves,” he added.

“More than 50 coaches face redundancy, and children will be robbed of this very valuable sporting programme if the programme is not put on a permanent funding stream.

 “I appreciate education is facing very difficult funding challenges at present, but this cannot be a casualty of those pressures. Physical activity is every bit as important as classroom activity in the development of our children.”