UNICEF Ireland executive director Melanie Verwoerd, controversially sacked from the charity because of the publicity surrounding her relationship with the late broadcaster Gerry Ryan, is considering taking legal action against the organization.

Verwoerd, 43, a former South African ambassador to Ireland, confirmed on Sunday that the board of UNICEF Ireland terminated her employment with the organization on Friday, July 15. Her statement said it was because of the media interest in her relationship with RTÉ presenter Ryan, who died suddenly in April last year.

The death of Ryan, one of the highest-paid broadcasters in Ireland, was found to have been linked to cocaine. Verwoerd said when that was revealed at an inquest that she was heartbroken to discover the star had broken his word not to be involved in drugs after they started their relationship in 2008.

She said that although 2010 was a “very difficult and distressing” year, her work was not affected and UNICEF remained top of her agenda.

She almost doubled UNICEF Ireland’s donations in 2010 to €8.4 million, enabling almost €7 million to be transferred to its parent organization.

Now, following her sacking, a telethon fronted by Hollywood star Liam Neeson has been cancelled. The show, due on TV3, Ireland’s independent television channel, in October was expected to raise substantial donations for UNICEF, the children’s charity.

Ben Frow, TV3’s director of programming, said the telethon would not happen because of Verwoerd’s sacking.
So far, there has been no statement on the sacking from the board of UNICEF Ireland where Verwoerd’s annual salary was believed to be about €100,000.

Verwoerd, in her statement, said she was “deeply shocked” by the board’s decision. She had learned of the decision in an email from chairman Paul Connolly, founder of an investment banking company.

She said the board “had as recently as June expressed their gratitude for my efforts on the occasion of the charity’s annual report.”

According to the Irish Independent, the board of UNICEF Ireland instructed Verwoerd that her partner Ryan was not to accompany her to official charity events when he was alive.

Sources revealed to the paper that the charity had difficulties with their executive director’s high-profile relationship with Ryan when details of their affair were first made public. The board also told Verwoerd to stop Ryan acting as emcee at other UNICEF events even though he didn’t take a fee.