Stars quit Unicef events over dismissal

UNICEF goodwill ambassadors Liam Neeson and Vanessa Redgrave have pulled out of planned Unicef Ireland events after confirming they are “profoundly disturbed” by the dismissal of the group’s former executive director, Melanie Verwoerd.

In a statement released last night, the Hollywood actors — who are supported by fellow actor Roger Moore — said the departure of the “exceptional” official was “damaging” the reputation and ability of the group.

They said the decision to remove Ms Verwoerd — which reports have claimed was due to her relationship with controversial broadcaster Gerry Ryan — meant the needs of children were not being put first. The trio called for the immediate re-employment of the 43-year-old South African.

“We are profoundly disturbed by the news that the Unicef National Committee of Ireland has dismissed our colleague, Melanie Verwoerd,” the statement read.

“So firm is our trust in Melanie Verwoerd as an exceptional Unicef advocate and leader, we are compelled to say we view the dismissal of Melanie as a profoundly damaging loss to Unicef.

“Both Melanie Verwoerd, and each of us, made our pledges to Unicef to always put the children first.

“We ask Unicef and its supporters to officially recognise her value, and offer her another post with Unicef, so that she may continue her vocation and exceptional commitment to the children.

“At this moment putting children first means Melanie Verwoerd.”

As a result of the move, Mr Neeson has pulled out of an imminent event in Mozambique with his sons.

Similarly, Ms Redgrave — Mr Neeson’s mother-in-law — has also declined to produce World I Loved at the Grand Canal Theatre Dublin on September 10.

Despite the situation, Unicef Ireland has insisted it did not dismiss Ms Verwoerd by email, without notification or solely because of her relationship with Gerry Ryan.

Speaking on behalf of the organisation’s board, an outside PR firm said the ousted official had in fact been involved in weeks of meetings with the board.

The statement said the South African official was dismissed with two years of her salary as a lump sum after an agreement on the “future road” the group would take in Ireland.

It added that the board accepts “with regret” the position Mr Neeson, Ms Redgrave and Mr Moore have taken over the matter.

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