Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Political failure blamed for imminent loss of 50+ jobs

Political failure has been blamed for the imminent loss of more than fifty jobs as government funding for the sports coaching scheme in primary schools across the north runs out in three week’s time.

Soccer and Gaelic football coaches with the IFA and the GAA have been told their employment on the Curriculum Sports Programme will cease at the end of this month after efforts to yield further funding for the scheme failed.  An initial three-month extension of funding ends on October 31st and, with the absence of a working Executive and no Education Minister in place to approve additional capital, the jobs will be lost.

The situation has prompted a senior official within the Ulster GAA Council to appeal to the political parties at Stormont to reach agreement that will save the coaching staff.  Director of Coaching and Games Development, Eugene Young, is urging politicians to “get it sorted” as 25 Gaelic football and 28 soccer coaches face the prospect of unemployment.

He claims the coaching roles “have been cast aside as collateral damage” with the collapse of Stormont and called for action: “Even at this late stage I would appeal for a re-think.  This programme is too important to let go, these roles must be saved,” he said. 

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty has also lobbied Stormont officials to safeguard the programme, particularly as funding for it has been periodically renewed by the Department of Education.  Reacting angrily to news that the scheme is to end, Mr McNulty says it is “a sad day for sport and our political system”.

Expressing his disappointment, he said, “These coaches, employed by the IFA and Ulster GAA have been working with thousands of young boys and girls in our primary schools for almost ten years now.  Their roles are funded by the Department of Education and the funding has been historically renewed on a periodic basis.  It’s hard to fathom how some parties have been promising to restore these roles if and when a devolved government gets up and running again.  These hollow commitments are no comfort to IFA and Ulster GAA who will be responsible for redundancy payments and will be little consolation to the thousands of school children impacted who look forward to the weekly coaching sessions.”

Mr McNulty says he has been working with the GAA and IFA over recent months and although an initial three-month extension to funding was secured, both the Head of the Civil Service and the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Education have refused to extend this further.

Blaming the north’s two main political parties, the Newry and Armagh MLA said: “These coaches and the children who benefit from their work have been failed by the DUP and Sinn Fein and their refusal to make Stormont work.  The Curriculum Sports Programme is hugely successful and has had a positive impact on the physical wellbeing of up to 40,000 young people each year. In addition to encouraging children to participate in team sports, it encourages a fit, active and healthy lifestyle and also encourages extracurricular linkage with clubs.  Axing this programme does not alone impact the access of primary school children to sport and physical exercise, but will also adversely impact children’s mental, academic, emotional and character development.  This Coaching Programme offers so much more than sports to children, and builds a positive health and well-being foundation for life.”

Acknowledging the financial cuts being imposed across the education sector, Mr McNulty says it is his belief that the Curriculum Sports Programme is the only scheme to be withdrawn.

“ I have been meeting with teachers locally and am familiar with the financial pressures in schools. However, it’s my understanding that this is the only scheme or programme in the entire Department of Education that is being scrapped. Others have been scaled back or reduced, but this is being abolished,” he added.