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Thursday 26 April 2018

Former head of UNICEF slams sacking of Melanie

Melanie Verwoerd with Liam Neeson during UNICEF functions
Melanie Verwoerd with Liam Neeson during UNICEF functions

Sam Smyth and  Anne-Marie Walsh

A FORMER chairman of UNICEF Ireland said last night he believed that the sacking of Melanie Verwoerd had damaged the children's charity.

Technology entrepreneur Chris Horn, who was chairman when Ms Verwoerd was appointed, also confirmed that he had discussed her relationship with the late Gerry Ryan.

His comments came as speculation rose that Hollywood stars Liam Neeson, Roger Moore, and Vanessa Redgrave may quit their roles as goodwill ambassadors for UNICEF after their friend Melanie Verwoerd was sacked.

Ms Verwoerd approached Mr Horn and the board to tell them about her relationship with the RTE star before it became public knowledge.

Mr Horn said last night: "I had a discussion with her and the board and we agreed that as long as it didn't affect her work or commitment to UNICEF, it was her personal business."

Ms Verwoerd maintains that the current board of UNICEF Ireland has said that continuing publicity from her relation with Gerry Ryan was the reason for her dismissal.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Horn said he was concerned that UNICEF Ireland was being distracted by the controversy at a time when there is a crisis in Somalia and east Africa. "I think it is damaging to UNICEF," he said.

Mr Horn, a co-founder of Iona Technologies, was chairman of UNICEF Ireland from 2000 until 2007 and chaired the committee that appointed Ms Verwoerd executive director.

Ms Verwoerd, who had been the South African Ambassador to Ireland for five years, applied for the position after it was advertised in a newspaper.

"She was very well qualified and as well as her personal attributes and excellent character, she was from the developing world and that made her even more attractive."

He added: "I was very surprised and very saddened when I learned about it (her dismissal) in the media."

It is understood that Ms Verwoerd agreed an annual salary of less than €100,000 -- which made her one of the lowest-paid chief executives of any national charity.

Meanwhile UNICEF head office has backed the Irish branch of the charity's decision to dismiss her because of a "significant impasse" between her views and those of its board.

The UN aid agency's European headquarters told this newspaper yesterday that it "respected" the decision of the board of the Irish committee "to appoint new leadership".

It "regretted" the current situation in relation to the goodwill ambassadors, who have given Ms Verwoerd their full backing and called on the charity to offer her another post.

The ambassadors have said they are "profoundly disturbed" that Ms Verwoerd had been dismissed as executive director of the Irish arm of the charity.

A spokesperson at UNICEF head office said it had not received "any indication of any resignations by the goodwill ambassadors". But sources close to the ambassadors said they were considering whether to continue representing the charity.

Mr Neeson's representative agency in New York, Rogers and Cowan, said no decisions had been made about his future with the aid agency.

Mr Neeson and Ms Redgrave have already pulled out of fundraising events organised by Ms Verwoerd due to take place in the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

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