Monday 5 December 2016

Melanie tells of shock over being ‘sacked’ as head of Unicef

Gerry Ryan's ex 'worked tirelessly' for charity

Anne-Marie Walsh

Published 25/07/2011 | 05:00

Melanie Verwoerd arriving home to her house on Leeson Street Upper, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron/ Collins
Melanie Verwoerd arriving home to her house on Leeson Street Upper, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron/ Collins

GERRY RYAN'S ex-partner last night revealed her "deep shock" after being told she had lost her job due to the publicity over his death.

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Melanie Verwoerd said she was informed over a week ago by email that she was no longer executive director of UNICEF Ireland despite working "tirelessly" for the charity and bringing in unprecedented funds.

It is not known whether Ms Verwoerd's contract was up for renewal. UNICEF refused to comment last night.

Ms Verwoerd recently said that her job running the children's charity was helping her to cope with the death of the RTE broadcaster, who was found dead at his rented home on Leeson Street in Dublin in April last year.

An inquest into his death found the 53-year-old had traces of cocaine in his system.

"It is with sincere regret that I confirm I am no longer the executive director of UNICEF Ireland," Ms Verwoerd said.

"The Board of UNICEF Ireland felt that the media interest in my relationship with Gerry Ryan, who died on April 30 2010, was damaging UNICEF and they terminated my employment by email at 17.26pm on Friday July 15.

"This is despite a doubling of the income for UNICEF Ireland in 2010, which was the best financial year since its inception."

She pointed out that the results she achieved were in an "extremely difficult economic climate".

"The profile of the organisation for which I have worked tirelessly has never been higher in Ireland," she added.

"I am deeply shocked by the decision of the chairman and the board of UNICEF Ireland, who had as recently as June expressed their gratitude for my efforts on the occasion of the charity's annual report.

"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."

She said the performance of the organisation during this period spoke for itself.

"I am extremely sad to leave UNICEF. It is an organisation of exceptional people committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children and to whom I am still fully committed."

She said it was especially unfortunate that she was "being forced to leave" at a time there was a famine and humanitarian crisis in Eastern Africa threatening the lives and well-being of millions of children.

Despite the sad circumstances of her departure from her job, she urged people to continue to support the charity.

Ms Verwoerd, a former South African Ambassador to Ireland, was appointed UNICEF Ireland Executive Director in April 2007. It is understood she was informed of the board's decision by chairman Paul Connolly.

However, her dismissal has not been formally announced and Ms Verwoerd was still listed as UNICEF's Executive Director on its website last night.

When contacted by the Irish Independent, the charity said it was not prepared to comment on the revelations.

"UNICEF is not commenting," said a spokesman.

Sources said the board was unhappy that recent media coverage of the launch of a UNICEF report on young people's mental health was "overshadowed" by Ms Verwoerd's comments on her former partner.

"If there's something the last year has taught me, it is that life can be very cruel, and there is very little you can control about life," said the 43-year-old.

"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 -- those things I choose to do something about and I have focused my energy on that."

The UNICEF board includes Mr Connolly, an associate of businessman Denis O'Brien, PJ Mara, who was also Charlie Haughey's press secretary, as well as Mr Haughey's one-time solicitor Ivor Fitzpatrick, and the wife of Penneys founder Arthur Ryan, Alma Carroll.

Irish Independent

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