Unicef denies sacking claims

Sat, Jul 30, 2011, 01:00

Unicef Ireland has denied claims it dismissed executive director Melanie Verwoerd over media treatment of her relationship with the late Gerry Ryan.

Instead it maintains she was fired after "weeks of interaction and negotiation" because of her "refusal" to accept the board's view the matter was negative for the charity and for failing to deal with the issue.

In a statement released today the charity said it had never “publicly confirmed or denied its concern” over the issue before now.

It said: “The board sought, for the sake of all persons involved (including Unicef Ireland) and the memory of the late Mr Ryan, to avoid bringing this sensitive matter into the glare of the media.”

“Instead, it sought to address the matter in a professional, open and dignified manner with Ms Verwoerd with the objective of working together with her to agree how best to ensure that this situation was corrected ultimately for the sake of the children Unicef serves.

“The board was very sympathetic to Ms Verwoerd over her loss and has supported her in the period following his untimely death”.

However, the charity went on to say that over the past year reports of its work in the media were being “overshadowed” by stories relating to the private life of Ms Verwoerd.

Unicef said it tried to address this with Ms Verwoerd with a view to better media management.

“Regrettably, Ms Verwoerd did not accept the board's view…and did not fulfil the board's request for her to develop a plan for how future media attention could be refocused on Unicef Ireland.”

Ms Verwoerd maintains she was sacked by the board of Unicef Ireland because of the publicity surrounding her relationship with Mr Ryan and said she intends to take a case against her former employees to the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The charity has said it will defend its decision.

Meanwhile, James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore has said he felt compelled to speak out over the sacking today.

He described Ms Verwoerd as “brilliant” and said she was dismissed without “proper grounds”.

Sir Roger put his name to a statement with fellow actors and Unicef Goodwill ambassadors Liam Neeson and Vanessa Redgrave during the week expressing their dismay and shock at her dismissal.

Mr Neeson has already pulled of a trip to Mozambique as a result and Ms Redgrave has declined to produce a show in the Grand Canal Theatre in September in aid of Unicef.

In a statement this afternoon which was emailed to The Irish Times, Sir Roger described Ms Verwoerd as a “brilliant advocate for improving the lives of children”.

“We have all worked closely with Melanie and seen just how persuasive and motivated she is first hand.”

He described the news of her sacking as “very unexpected and sudden” but stressed that it did not mean that he was no longer going to work for Unicef.

He urged Irish people to continue supporting Unicef particularly in its work in combating famine in the horn of Africa.

Unicef Ireland issued a statement during the week justifying the dismissal of Ms Verwoerd and saying that they respected the views of the three actors who protested at her sacking.