Coaches who deliver GAA and soccer training to tens of thousands of children are again facing the axe as a temporary reprieve nears an end.
And there have been calls for a “positive decision” on their future is delivered as a matter of urgency.
The Curriculul Sports Programme could be cancelled “in the coming days” because no fresh money has been earmarket from Stormont to keep it up and running.
Jointly delivered by the Irish Football Association and Ulster GAA, the programme is delivered by 50 trained coaches from both organisations to over 40,000 Key Stage 1 primary school children each year.
It encompasses sports coaching and incorporates obvious health and wellbeing benefits, according to one local political representative.
And Justin McNulty says that the 50 coaches are now facing redundancy once again because there is no money pledged to ensure the programme continues to function – something he branded “inexcusable”.
“The coaching is about much more than skill improvement in sports, it’s about encouraging children to maintain a fit, healthy and active lifestyle,” said the Newry and Armagh MLA.
“All the evidence shows that taking part in sport and maintaining an active lifestyle from an early age doesn’t just benefit a child’s physical wellbeing – it positively influences their mental health, as well as their emotional and character development.”
Mr McNulty said political instability at Stormont had placed the future of this successful and positive programme in jeopardy.
He explained that last year the programme got a reprieve until the end of this month, March 2018, in the hope that a Minister would be in place to put the programme back on a firm financial footing.
But he continued: “Because of the collapse of the deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein, more than 50 coaches are being faced with redundancy notices and children will be robbed of this very valuable sporting programme.
“I have continued to work with both Ulster GAA and the IFA in an effort to secure the future of the programme and have been in constant contact with both the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education, Derek Baker, and the Head of the Civil Service.
“Despite these endeavours – and even though the Secretary of State has released a budget – we have yet to receive an answer about funding commitments for the programme.
“This is extremely unnerving for coaches in both organisations alike, and for the schools who benefit from the programme.”
Mr McNulty said the IFA and Ulster GAA had been forced to place their coaching staff on protective redundancy notice as an outcome of not knowing if funding will be available or not.
“As things stand, the IFA coaches are due to finish on the 31st March and the GAA Coaches are due to finish in June,” he explained.
“This is an inexcusable situation. The Permanent Secretary and DENI must step up and make a positive decision urgently.’
“I cannot overstate the value of this programme to our young people and the vital role the high calibre coaches play in not only embedding a culture of physical activity and teamwork, but also their role in delivering important life lessons through the medium of sport.
“The Curriculum Sports Programme, and the coaches who are intrinsic to its delivery, should be celebrated as a beacon of success. Sadly, with no Executive in place the programme’s survival is up in the air and the coaches are once again facing redundancy.
“Last year they were promised that the programme would be secured once a Minister was in place – just more empty promises!
“With no devolved Government and no Executive Ministers, these coaches and the children they work with are collateral damage.
“I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Head of the Civil Service. Certainty for the Curriculum Sports Programme and for the coaches who deliver is needed, and is needed today.”