Unicef sacks Verwoerd by email despite recent praise

MELANIE VERWOERD has been sacked as executive director of Unicef Ireland by email — despite recent praise from the board for her fundraising efforts.

In a statement confirming her dismissal yesterday, Ms Verwoerd said she was “deeply shocked” by the decision of the chairman and board of the charity, “who had as recently as June expressed their gratitude for my efforts on the occasion of the charity’s annual report”.

Ms Verwoerd said her employment was terminated by email at 5.26pm on Friday, July 15, because the board “felt that the media interest in my relationship with Gerry Ryan, who died on April 30, 2010, was damaging Unicef”.

Ms Verwoerd, who was broadcaster Ryan’s partner for the final two years of his life, said the decision to dismiss her had come on the heels of a “doubling of the income” to €6.9 million for Unicef Ireland last year.

She said 2010 was “the best financial year since its inception”.

Ms Verwoerd said the profile of Unicef Ireland “for whom I have worked tirelessly” has never been higher. Her work was carried out against a backdrop of deep personal anguish following the death of Ryan, but Unicef had been her number one priority, she said.

“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. The performance of the organisation during this period speaks for itself.”

Ms Verwoerd said she was “extremely sad” to leave the charity, which she described as “an organisation of exceptional people committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children and to whom I am still fully committed”.

The former politician and South African ambassador said it was “especially unfortunate” she was “being forced” to leave Unicef at a time of crisis in eastern Africa, “which threatens the lives and well-being of millions of children”.

Ms Verwoerd had, until recently, been leading the public appeals for assistance towards the famine.

A Unicef Ireland spokesman said yesterday he was “not commenting on speculation”.

When it was pointed out that Ms Verwoerd had confirmed her dismissal by email, he replied: “That’s her view.”

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