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Sports bodies and politicians in crunch meeting on future for schools coaching programme

Delegation to seek cash amid ongoing fears programme may become casualty of political stalemate

Stormont’s most senior civil servants will this week be asked to do their bit to ensure a sports programme for school children can remain in place.

Representatives of various sports’ governing bodies will accompany political representatives to a meeting with Derek Baker, the Department of Education’s Permanent Secretary.

They will argue for the retention of the Curriculum Sports Programme, which offers coaching to children at schools right across Northern Ireland.

The programme has previously been in jeopardy and given a reprieve on a number of occasions.

But with no sign of a return to Stormont any time soon, the delegation will be seeking reassurances that the children’s sport programme will not become a casualty of the political stalemate.

A cross-party group – led by Newry and Armagh SDLP MLA Justin McNulty and including Irish FA chief Patrick Nelson and Ulster GAA chief executive Brian McAvoy  – will meet Mr Baker.

Speaking ahead of those crunch face-to-face discussions, Mr McNulty said the Curriculum Sports Programme was “one of the most successful” such schemes delivered in local schools.

“It is a joint venture between the IFA and Ulster GAA and costs £1.3m per annum to deliver,” he explained.

“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.

“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.

“I am delighted we have a cross-party consensus in supporting this programme. Political instability at Stormont has placed 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.

“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.”

Mr McNulty said the purpose of this week’s meeting with the Permanent Secretary was to “press for a permanent resolution” to the funding issue.

He added: “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.”

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