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Monday 27 February 2017

Keep Gerry Ryan away, UNICEF told Melanie

Verwoerd considers legal bid after being sacked by UNICEF

Ken Sweeney and Sam Smyth

THE board of UNICEF Ireland instructed former director Melanie Verwoerd that her late partner Gerry Ryan was not to accompany her to official charity events when he was alive, the Irish Independent has learned.

The revelation emerged last night as sources close to Ms Verwoerd confirmed she was considering legal action against her former employers following her controversial sacking.

UNICEF Ireland again refused to comment on Ms Verwoerd's dismissal last night.

However, sources revealed the charity had difficulties with their executive director's high-profile relationship with Mr Ryan as far back as October 2008, when details of their affair were first made public.

"The board also told Melanie to stop Gerry acting as MC at other UNICEF events even though he didn't take a fee," said one source .

Ms Verwoerd broke down in tears as she was consoled by colleagues after she cleared out her desk at the UNICEF offices in Dublin yesterday.

Friends last night said the mother-of-two was "still in shock" after it was revealed she lost her job as a result of publicity surrounding her relationship with Mr Ryan.

The Irish Independent has learned there was no time limit on Ms Verwoerd's contract with UNICEF.

She declined to make any further comment about her sacking last night.

However, sources close to the high-profile former ANC politician and South African ambassador to Ireland confirmed she was now seeking legal advice after her shock dismissal.

"Melanie ate, slept and breathed UNICEF. She had a very tough year and it was the one thing that has kept her going," an insider told the Irish Independent.

Friends said that whatever happens, Ms Verwoerd intended to continue her charity work and remain in Ireland, where she holds dual citizenship. Her two children are also studying full-time in this country.

UNICEF Ireland has already suffered a serious potential financial setback over the controversy.

CANCELLED

TV3 last night confirmed a planned telethon to be fronted by Hollywood star Liam Neeson has been cancelled following Ms Verwoerd's sacking.

The show, which was due to air later this year, was expected to raise substantial donations for the children's charity.

"Melanie had a fantastic contacts book in terms of celebrities, who were all very interested in taking part," TV3 director of programming Ben Frow told the Irish Independent.

"But the telethon is not going to happen now as she is no longer with UNICEF."

Last night it also emerged Ms Verwoerd was dismissed after she gave an interview to the Irish Independent at the launch of the findings of a major UNICEF report last month.

At the launch, the former charity boss spoke at length about the findings of the report, which was titled: 'Changing the Future -- Experiencing Adolescence In Contemporary Ireland: Mental Health.'

Afterwards, she spoke of her struggle to come to terms with the death of her partner, whose body she found in his apartment in April 2010.

She said at the time: "The last year has been absolute hell and I suspect it will be hell for a long time still. I lost the man I loved and I'm heartbroken, and that is the hell. But this work has helped. It helps to be able to do something for children, not only outside Ireland, but also to work with children here."

However, the former UNICEF director said she had thrown herself into her job even more as she tried to get over her own grief.

"Gerry was always proud of my work and I'm sure he would have been proud of this . . . if there's something the last year has taught me, it is that life can be very cruel, and that there is very little you can control about life. So the things I can control, like being able to make a difference in whether children get malaria or not, or whether children die from cholera, or starvation, or whether children's voices are heard when they are in trouble . . . those things I choose to do something about and I have focused my energy in that," she said.

TERMINATED

In a statement released on Sunday evening, Ms Verwoerd claimed her contract with UNICEF -- believed to be worth just under ¿100,000 a year -- had been terminated due to her public association with the late broadcaster.

She said she was "deeply shocked" by the decision of UNICEF board.

Ms Verwoerd claimed she learned of her dismissal by an email sent by UNICEF chairman Paul Connolly.

She said the board "had as recently as June expressed their gratitude for my efforts on the occasion of the charity's annual report". The statement added: "Despite what was, personally, a very difficult and distressing period my work was never affected and the interests of UNICEF were always top of my agenda."

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