Colleagues and politicians pay tribute to journalist Liam Clarke

Former Belfast Telegraph political editor died ‘suddenly but peacefully’

Liam Clarke pictured at his home in Ballymena in June 2014. Photograph: Belfast Telegraph

Liam Clarke pictured at his home in Ballymena in June 2014. Photograph: Belfast Telegraph

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Tributes have been paid to the journalist Liam Clarke from Ballymena, Co Antrim, who died “suddenly but peacefully” on Saturday night.

Clarke as a journalist with the Sunday Times and the Belfast Telegraph covered Northern Ireland through much of the Troubles and then on to the peace process and the political settlement.

His wife, Kathryn Johnston, with whom he co-wrote the book, Martin McGuinness: From Guns To Government, wrote on Facebook on Sunday, “I am very sorry to say that Liam Clarke died very suddenly but peacefully last night”.

Clarke was the Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times for 20 years and later was a columnist for the newspaper. He was appointed political editor of the Belfast Telegraph in 2011 and was writing for the newspaper up until very recently.

For a period in the 1970s and before becoming a full time journalist he was a member of Official Sinn Féin, later to transform into the Workers’ Party.

He covered most of the major Northern stories of the past 30 years and was also a regular broadcast commentator. He was involved in exposing the paramilitary criminal wealth amassed by Thomas Slab Murphy who was recently convicted of tax evasion.

The Sunday Times successfully defended a lengthy defamation case taken by Murphy against the newspaper, with Dublin juries twice branding Murphy a liar and an IRA man who planned murder and bombing.

In 2014 Mr Clarke won the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) journalist of the year award.

In June last year Mr Clarke wrote about how just before Christmas 2013 a consultant told him he feared he was suffering a rare form of stomach cancer, PMP or Pseudomyxoma Peritonei – a diagnosis that was confirmed in March 2014.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, he practised Zen Buddhism which he said helped him face up to the possibility of imminent death. “The beauty of life in the face of death is a very Zen concept,” he wrote in the Belfast Telegraph. “Every moment should be lived as if it was our last – as it could be. It isn’t a delay to be endured while waiting for something better, it is complete in itself.”

Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists described Mr Clarke as a “fearless journalist”. Offering his condolences to his family, colleagues and friends he added, “He was never afraid to challenge authority and was always prepared to stand up for the principle of media freedom.”

The DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was “shocked and saddened” to learn of his death and how only last week they enjoyed a cup of tea together in Lisburn. “As a journalist Liam had an ability to cut through all the padding and get right to the core of a story,” she said.

First Minister Peter Robinson, offering condolences to Clarke’s family, said, “Liam has left a journalistic legacy which will undoubtedly be studied by future generations in that field. His achievements are too numerous to list.”

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was “sorry to hear Liam Clarke has died” and offered his sympathy and condolences to his family.

The Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers said Mr Clarke was a “very talented journalist who will be sadly missed”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said he was “stunned and saddened” by Mr Clarke’s death, adding that “his work demands respect”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Clarke had “one of the most recognisable names in Irish journalism”.

“Never one to give any politician an easy ride, Liam’s enduring professional qualities were his straight talking style and his dogged determination. A good journalist and a good man, he will be sorely missed,” he said.

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said he was “sad” to learn of Mr Clarke’s death. He described his biography of Mr McGuinness as a “tour de force of journalism”.

Labour senator Mairia Cahill said Mr Clarke was an “excellent journalist” who was “fair, balanced, and determined”.

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