Disability cuts to disadvantage Larne athletes

Larne girl Claire Taggart, who is a member of Team GB's Boccia Squad and will compete in Rio in 2016. . INLT 11-240-AM
Larne girl Claire Taggart, who is a member of Team GB's Boccia Squad and will compete in Rio in 2016. . INLT 11-240-AM

Funding cuts to Disability Sport NI will make it more difficult for local disabled people to access competitive sport, say sporting figures.

The comments came after Disability Sport NI revealed it has been facing budget cuts of 50 per cent over the past three years, which will result in the organisation removing services to 7,000 of the 20,000 people it works with and reducing its own staff levels from 19 to 14.

While the charity received £285,000 from Sport NI last year, the amount was reduced to £207,000 this year and will fall further in the new financial year to £146,000.

Chief Executive Kevin O’Neill of Disability Sport NI said the cuts will have a “devastating” impact on people with disabilities.

As a result, the organisation says it will be forced to “scrap” programmes such as the Northern Ireland Boccia programme, including its support for both the Boccia league and clubs.

Larne woman Claire Taggart, 20, who has functional dystonia, is a member of Team GB’s Boccia Squad and is looking forward to competing in Rio in 2016.

Speaking from a Team GB training camp in Stirling, her mother Maggie told The Times that she was “absolutely disgusted and devastated” by the cuts.

She stated: “Claire started at Ballygally Boccia Club and then entered the Ulster Boccia League before getting onto the Paralympic team.

“She will still be a part of Team GB, but DSNI were going to come to Larne to give us training, support and advice to help boost her training. They were also trying to set up a physio and sports development programme for her.I feel she will be disadvantaged now. They would have trained her on a one-to-one basis with their specialist knowledge and expertise.”

Maggie says that the cutbacks will have a severe impact on future generations of disabled athletes. “There are other young ones who would have loved to be coming for the GB trials but they won’t get that opportunity now. Future paralympians from Northern Ireland will be disadvantaged.”

Founder of Ballygally Boccia Club Alix Crawford described the move as a “backward step” as the popularity of boccia had been increasing among disabled athletes. She stated: “Our club is recreational and won’t be affected by the funding cuts, but the Boccia League and training programmes will be. We spent a couple of years growing their skills and the opportunity to play competititve sport has now been taken away with nothing to replace it.”

Larne Borough Council’s Sport Development Officer Niall Curneen added: “If there aren’t as many officers to delliver programmes then no-one is able to progress to a higher level, which sets a dangerious precedent. Sport funding is always cut first and no attention is paid to the physical, menatl and social benefits.”