Saturday 25 November 2017

Job was 'inextricably' linked to Gerry Ryan

Verwoerd speaks out about why she was fired by Unicef

STATEMENT: Melanie Verwoerd was sacked from UNICEF
Ireland last week. Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins
STATEMENT: Melanie Verwoerd was sacked from UNICEF Ireland last week. Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Sacked UNICEF Ireland executive director Melanie Verwoerd was told that her job "has become inextricably linked to your relationship with the late Gerry Ryan, the circumstances of his death and subsequent disputes with his family, however accurate or not reports may be".

According to a 'private and confidential' letter released yesterday, the board of the charity discussed in detail the "negative impact on Unicef of ongoing press reports concerning your private life".

The letter from the charity's chief executive Paul Connolly and dated June 20, 2011, was released by Ms Verwoerd to counter what she described as the "misleading statement from the board of Unicef Ireland".

Ms Verwoerd also insisted yesterday that she was sacked by email, as detailed in last week's Sunday Independent. It is believed that a cheque for over €200,000, which was sent to her solicitor by Unicef Ireland on July 22, was lodged into a client account as her solicitor was obliged to do.

She said the money was sent "unilaterally" and "there was no settlement" and she intends to pursue the matter through the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

In his letter of June 20, Mr Connolly reveals that, at its meeting earlier in the day, "the board considers the negative impact on Unicef of ongoing press reports concerning your private life.

"It was considered most unfortunate that such reports competed with, and in some media overshadowed, the recent release of the second report of our 'Changing the Future Report Series' as well as that week's visit to Haiti by Rory McIlroy -- an event that should have been a highlight of our publicity drive spearheaded by you."

The letter goes on: "I trust you will accept that the board offered you every sympathy, support and forbearance over the past year as you tried to put these events behind you. Unfortunately, the unwarranted press interest shows no sign of abating and is undoubtedly an ongoing distraction for you from your focus on Unicef."

In the letter, signed by Mr Connolly, he said the board was in the "invidious position" of taking into account "reputational issues and any potential sponsor discomfort".

Mr Connolly said that he had raised these concerns at a previous meeting on June 10, and at a board meeting on June 16.

"The board has found that your reaction and the responses that you gave to these concerns to be wholly inadequate and it has requested that you give further consideration to your prior responses in this matter."

Mr Connolly then stated directors Tom Hayes, a corporate banker with Bank of Ireland, and PJ Mara had been delegated to meet her again and they would consider any written submission that she might wish to make before then.

After a week of the controversy, Ms Verwoerd said that originally she did not intend to make further comment on her dismissal as executive director of the organisation, but a "misleading statement" from the board, public comments attributed to sources close to the board and comments by a public relations firm employed by the board forced her to clarify her position.

"For the sake of clarity: I was dismissed by email. The only issue of concern ever raised with me by the board prior to my dismissal was the publicity surrounding my relationship with the late Gerry Ryan.

"There was absolutely no settlement regarding my departure from a job I loved and to which I was absolutely devoted."

She added that concerns about her press profile and the linkage to the death of Gerry Ryan, and the subsequent inquest was damaging to Unicef, were first raised by the chairman in the bar of the Burlington Hotel on June 10.

"I questioned this assertion citing the record donation figures, public awareness levels, which had been tested, and the fact that not one complaint had been received by the office of Unicef in Dublin."

She said that Mr Connolly then suggested that she "go dark" -- avoiding the media and public events.

Ms Verwoerd revealed that at a further meeting, which was attended by her solicitor, she "emphasised" that media interest had declined and would continue to.

"On the evening of July 15, I received an email terminating my employment as executive director of Unicef Ireland."

She said that a cheque, believed to be for more than €200,000, was sent to her solicitor on July 22.

"It is important to note that the money was sent completely unilaterally and without any conditions attached" she said, adding that she then informed the board that she intended to bring a case against them for unfair dismissal.

"In her statement yesterday, Ms Verwoerd also appealed to people to continue with their donations, "particularly given the current crises" and said that children should not be affected.

"I trust and hope that the people of Ireland, who have always been incredibly generous, will support the children in the Horn of Africa who need our help now."

Sunday Independent

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