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You've got one Mel of a fight on your hands; Sacked Unicef chief Verwoerd vows to take charity to tribunal.

Byline: James McNamara

saCKEd unicef chief Melanie Verwoerd last night rounded on her former bosses and vowed to take them to a tribunal.

In an explosive fightback, the partner of the late RTE broadcaster Gerry Ryan attacked a "misleading statement" made by the charity's board and insisted she was devoted to her work.

The mum-of-two revealed she now plans to take the charity to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, claiming she was unfairly dismissed by email from a job she was "performing well" in.

At the end of last year, Ms Verwoerd, 43, said she agreed with her bosses how the organisation would go about its work in 2011.

During the meeting her relationship with the late broadcaster Ryan was never discussed.

But on June 10, following a Unicef trip to Haiti with golfing star Rory McIlroy, she was called by chairman Paul Connolly to a meeting in the bar of the Burlington Hotel in Dublin.

It was there Ms Verwoerd was told her links to Ryan were "damaging Unicef" - despite the fact she was in charge when the charity's income doubled during 2010 to record levels.

She was also warned to never speak to the media again - a "fundamental change" in her role with the charity.

Ms Verwoerd said: "Mr Connolly suggested this interest was damaging Unicef. "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 added: "At this meeting Mr Connolly suggested that I should 'go dark' and not speak to the media on behalf of Unicef Ireland or represent Unicef Ireland at public events.

"I told Mr Connolly that I believed that this would constitute a fundamental change to my job description and raise confusion that would be detrimental to the operation of the charity. "I emphasised that my work and the protection of Unicef had always been my top priority and whilst I had attempted to keep my personal profile as low as possible, no one can control how the media goes about its business."

Her relationship with Ryan was brought up next at a meeting of the Unicef board Caring: ireland on June 20 where she agreed to keep her "personal profile as low as possible".

The board includes Charlie Haughey's former spin doctor PJ Mara and his one-time solicitor Ivor Fitzpatrick. Another member is Bank of Ireland executive Tom Hayes.

Four days later, Ms Verwoerd was sent a letter and told to attend a meeting with Mr Connolly and Mr Mara on June 30 after she returned from a planned trip home to Zimbabwe.

The letter told her: "Your profile has become inextricably linked to your relationship with the late Gerry Ryan, the circumstances of his death and subsequent disputers with his family, however accurate or not reports may be."

Ms Verwoerd then received an email two weeks later, telling her she had been sacked. They told her she was being given a cheque for two years' pay but she said: "I did not want money. My preference was always to keep my job, a job I believed that I was performing well."

Ms Verwoerd is now worried that the "personal agendas of a small number of people" will harm children in Africa.

But she urged people to continue to donate to Unicef given the crisis in Somalia.

She added: "I recognise some members of the public, after the events of this week, may feel reluctant to donate to Unicef Ireland. I ask them to please continue to do so given the current crisis.

"Unicef is an incredible organisation that does the most important work for children in over 150 countries."

Last night Unicef said it did not sack Ms Verwoerd because of her relationship with Ryan.

A statement said: "If Ms Verwoerd pursues a case through the Employment Appeals Tribunal then Unicef Ireland will defend its decision at the tribunal."

peoplenews@mgn.com with

CAPTION(S):

HITTING BACK Melanie Verwoerd has vowed to fight her sacking by unicef Caring: Verwoerd in her unicef role with ireland rugby star donncha O'Callaghan ParTnEr: Verwoerd and gerry ryan sMiLEs: With actor Liam neeson
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Jul 31, 2011
Words:701
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