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Friday 26 May 2017

Verwoerd denies taking €200,000 UNICEF payout

Rift deepens as charity claims 'unresolved differences'

Anne-Marie Walsh, Ken Sweeney and Sam Smyth

MELANIE Verwoerd last night hit back at claims by her former employer, UNICEF Ireland, that she received a €200,000 settlement when she was sacked.

Ms Verwoerd denied she cashed any cheque and vowed to take legal action after the UN aid agency dramatically broke its silence and defended its decision to dismiss her.

The week-long rift between Ms Verwoerd and UNICEF deepened after the charity issued a statement denying it fired her by email and claiming she conditionally accepted a payout worth two years' salary, which had been cashed.

The war of words broke out after the children's charity stoutly defended its decision to end her contract as executive director of the UN aid agency last Friday week.

It said the dismissal was down to a "difference of views" between Ms Verwoerd and the board.

But Ms Verwoerd denied there was any settlement and said she would "reluctantly" take an unfair dismissal case against her former employer at the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

"There are a number of inaccuracies in the UNICEF statement which I will respond to in due course over the next few days," she told the Irish Independent.

Sources close to the charity worker said the aid agency did not give any other reason for her dismissal than her association with the late RTE broadcaster Gerry Ryan.

"There has been no settlement. I have not cashed any cheque," Ms Verwoerd said.

She responded as it was revealed that Hollywood actor Liam Neeson has refused to take part in a field trip to Mozambique next week due to his "dissatisfaction" with Ms Verwoerd's dismissal.

And actress Vanessa Redgrave has also cancelled a concert in Grand Canal Theatre because of the dismissal.

Ms Verwoerd has claimed she got an email informing her that the board of the charity had decided to dismiss her because of her public association with Gerry Ryan.

Mr Ryan was found dead at his apartment in Dublin in April last year.

Resolved

UNICEF said its board decided to end Ms Verwoerd's contract because there was a "significant impasse" between her views and the views of its members that could not be resolved, although it did not say what those views were.

"Having raised its concerns with her, the board of UNICEF Ireland engaged with Ms Verwoerd for a number of weeks in trying to agree with her the future profile and positioning of UNICEF in Ireland," it said.

It said the difference of views "became clear" at a final meeting between Ms Verwoerd, her lawyer, board chairman Paul Connolly and former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey's press secretary, PJ Mara, a director of the board.

"The board decided that the differences could not be resolved and, acting in the interests of the organisation as a whole and most importantly, its mission, it decided unanimously to end her contract," it said.

UNICEF said that it appreciated her many contributions but the organisation was "greater than any one person" and vowed to defend itself against any action she may take.

"We hope the transition to new leadership will be amicable for the sake of the children we serve."

It denied Ms Verwoerd was dismissed by email or without notification and said it paid a settlement worth two years' salary that had been cashed.

It is understood her contract was worth just under €100,000 a year.

UNICEF said Ms Verwoerd "conditionally" accepted the terms of the settlement but reserved her right to take an employment appeals case and claim damages.

However, according to the charity, she has already received the maximum compensation that can be paid by the tribunal, which is two years' salary. But the tribunal can also order that she be reinstated in her job.

"Ms Verwoerd conditionally accepted the terms and sums through her solicitor," it said. "The settlement cheque has been cashed."

Irish Independent

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