The scrapping of a sports coaching programme for schools will have a major adverse impact on young people, Rosemary Barton has said.
Mrs Barton, an Ulster Unionist MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, was commenting following confirmation that a scheme to fund the provision of Irish Football Association and GAA coaches to schools has been cancelled.
The Curriculum Sports Programme (CSP) for P1-P4 pupils was designed to “improve their health and wellbeing” and to “encourage them to embrace a healthy lifestyle from a young age”.
However, after investing more than £11 million in the programme since 2010, the Department of Education has said budgetary pressures mean no further funding is available. The scheme will now close at the end of this month.
“This is really a sad day for our school children and is a sad indictment of where we are in Northern Ireland with no Executive,” Mrs Barton said.
“Not only does it promote a healthy lifestyle for pupils taking part, but it also encourages fitness, and teamwork, and helps develop local sporting talent. The scrapping of this programme will have a major impact on our young people,” she added.
Sinn Fein’s Sinead Ennis said her party is “vigorously opposed to the grant aid being cut”.
“This is the most recent victim of the Tory austerity agenda aided and abetted by the DUP with school children bearing the brunt,” she said.
“This cut must be reversed immediately. Sinn Fein will continue to rigorously oppose these assaults on public services and the most vulnerable in society,” Ms Ennis added.
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle described the decision as an “abdication of responsibility”.
Mr Lyttle said: ”That departments could not meet the costs to sustain the programme despite shockingly low levels of physical education in our schools is a short sighted abdication of statutory responsibility that seriously jeopardises the future of this uniquely successful initiative with no successor provision in place.”
Stephen Agnew, the Green Party leader in Northern Ireland, said children are losing out because Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot work together.
“They are denied the physical and mental health benefits of taking part in an excellent coaching programme,” he said.
“The DUP and Sinn Fein will often talk up their commitment to sports and wear their GAA or football colours when it suits them to. Yet, it’s their failings that put coaches out of a job and deny children a chance to take part in football or gaelic games at school.”