Hollywood legends Liam Neeson, Roger Moore and Vanessa Redgrave have withdrawn from Unicef work in protest at the charity’s decision to sack executive director Melanie Verwoerd.
Neeson has confirmed to the Irish Times that he pulled out of a trip to Mozambique this weekend after learning that Verwoerd, partner of the late broadcaster Gerry Ryan, has been dismissed.
Just last March Neeson became Unicef Ireland’s first goodwill ambassador.
He told the paper that the sacking represented a ‘profoundly damaging loss’ to the charity.
The actor also appealed to Unicef to find another role for Verwoerd within the organization.
The statement, signed by Neeson and Redgrave, mother of his late wife Natasha, urged Unicef to re-employ Verwoerd so that ‘she can continue her vocation and exceptional commitment to the children’.
Verwoerd has claimed she was sacked by email on July 15th because the board of Unicef felt publicity surrounding her relationship with the late Gerry Ryan was damaging the charity.
Unicef finally responded to the claims on Wednesday when it said the decision to dismiss Verwoerd was down to a disagreement as to her future at the organization.
Neeson and Redgrave told the Irish Times that they were ‘profoundly disturbed’ by the decision.
They also believe Verwoerd has been “hounded” by the Irish press but her commitment to Unicef had been ‘unwavering’.
“The increase in donations to the charity last year was sure proof of her commitment,” said the statement.
“It also proves that whatever various personal opinions, Melanie Verwoerd and the Irish Unicef committee have worked well to achieve this.
“Her commitment had inspired us and so many others to dedicate ourselves to the unique cause and history of Unicef.
“So firm is our trust in Melanie Verwoerd as an exceptional Unicef advocate and leader that we are compelled to say that we view the dismissal of Melanie as a profoundly damaging loss to Unicef.”
Unicef Ireland said it respected Neeson’s decision.