Fears for football and GAA coaching scheme

Pupils' routes into football could be impacted by the loss of school coaches
Pupils' routes into football could be impacted by the loss of school coaches

Thousands of primary school children across Northern Ireland could lose out on sports coaching due to the ongoing political deadlock at Stormont, it is feared.

There are concerns that funding for football and GAA coaching in 450 primary schools could be lost, placing over 50 coaching jobs at risk.

The Curriculum Sports Programme, which has been running for over 10 years, is supported by the Department of Education to the tune of around £1.3m annually.

But funding for GAA coaching is due to run out next month, while the football fund has just four months of reserves.

Earlier this year, department civil servants approved an extension of £750,000 until the end of October.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty, a former GAA player and manager, said ministerial approval is now needed for the programme to be extended.

He told the News Letter: “I will be leading a delegation to meet the head of the civil servoce later this month to try to find a solution.”

Irish Football Association (IFA) spokesperson Neil Brittain said the organisation works with 18,500 pupils each week, delivering 800 sessions.

“We will continue to lobby decision makers to fund this programme,” he added.

An Ulster GAA spokesperson added: “We are working closely with the IFA and discussions are ongoing to try and save these jobs.”

A departmental spokesperson said: “Over recent months DE officials have engaged with both the IFA and Ulster GAA to explore various options for using the funding available in 2018/19 to extend the programme beyond October.”