Neeson pulls out of Unicef trip to Africa


ACTOR LIAM Neeson has pulled out of a trip to Mozambique this weekend in protest at the sacking of Unicef Ireland executive director Melanie Verwoerd.

Neeson, who became a Unicef Ireland ambassador in March, issued a statement to The Irish Timesdescribing her sacking as a “profoundly damaging loss” to the charity.

He called on Unicef to offer her another post within the organisation so that she can continue her “vocation and exceptional commitment to the children”. The statement was issued in the name of Neeson and fellow actors Vanessa Redgrave, the mother of his late wife, Natasha Richardson, and the former James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore.

Redgrave and Sir Roger are also Unicef goodwill ambassadors.

Neeson’s withdrawal from the trip to Mozambique with his sons and Ms Redgrave’s decision not to produce the World I Love benefit for Unicef in the Grand Canal Theatre in September marks an escalation in the row over Ms Verwoerd’s sacking by the Unicef Ireland board.

The pair’s statement was released before Unicef Ireland broke its silence in relation to the reason for Ms Verwoerd’s dismissal which it said was down to a disagreement as to her future at the organisation.

Ms Verwoerd said she was sacked by e-mail on July 15th because the board felt the publicity surrounding her relationship with late broadcaster Gerry Ryan was overshadowing the work she did for the organisation.

She said she was “deeply shocked” by her dismissal. She acknowledged the time since Ryan’s death in April last year had been a “very difficult and distressing period” for her, but the charity had remained “top of my agenda”.

“The performance of the organisation during this period speaks for itself,” she added pointing to an increase in donations from €4.3 million in 2009 to €8.4 million last year.

Neeson and Redgrave said they were “profoundly disturbed” by the decision. They believed she had been “hounded” by the Irish press but her commitment to Unicef had been “unwavering”.

They said the increase in donations to the charity last year was “sure proof” of her commitment.

“It also proves that whatever various personal opinions, Melanie Verwoerd and the Irish Unicef committee have worked well to achieve this.”

Praising Ms Verwoerd further, they said her commitment had inspired them and “and so many others to dedicate ourselves to the unique cause and history of Unicef”.

They added: “So firm is our trust in Melanie Verwoerd as an exceptional Unicef advocate and leader that we are compelled to say that we view the dismissal of Melanie as a profoundly damaging loss to Unicef.”

In response Unicef Ireland said it respected Mr Neeson’s decision.