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Tributes as Belfast Telegraph journalist Liam Clarke passes away

By Rebecca Black

Published 28/12/2015

Liam Clarke at home last year
Liam Clarke at home last year

Tributes have been paid to the Belfast Telegraph's Political Editor Liam Clarke from across the political spectrum following his sudden death.

First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and Arlene Foster, who will succeed Mr Robinson as First Minister, were among the many politicians who paid tribute.

Belfast Telegraph Editor Gail Walker described Mr Clarke as "the pre-eminent political journalist of his generation".

Many journalists, readers, academics and members of the public also expressed their sadness at Mr Clarke's passing.

Liam (63) had been suffering from a rare form of stomach cancer but continued his work leading the news agenda and breaking major stories in the Belfast Telegraph.

His partner, Kathryn Johnston, said the father-of-three died peacefully in the early hours of Sunday morning.

One of his last major scoops was breaking the news that First Minister Peter Robinson was stepping down.

Mr Robinson said Liam had left behind a journalistic legacy "which will undoubtedly be studied by future generations in that field".

"Liam has been reporting on politics for almost as long as I have been in politics," he added.

"His friendly approach was disarming in an interview. You didn't just hear from Liam when he was looking an interview, and that distinguished him from many of his peers.

"I sympathise with Kathryn and with their children. I assure them of my prayers at this difficult time."

Ms Villiers described Liam as a "very talented journalist who will be sadly missed", while Mr Flanagan said he had made a "distinguished contribution to Northern Ireland journalism".

Martin McGuinness, the subject of one of Mr Clarke's books, From Guns to Government, said: "I'm sorry to hear Liam Clarke has died, my sympathy & condolences to his family."

Liam was originally from Co Tyrone and attended Omagh Academy before moving into journalism.

He worked at the now defunct Sunday News in the early 1980s, before moving to the Sunday Times, and was appointed at Political Editor at the Belfast Telegraph in 2011. He made his name by breaking scores of major stories, including the unmasking of south Armagh smuggler and senior republican 'Slab' Murphy.

One of his most recent scoops was the first in-depth interview with Arlene Foster after she was voted in as the new DUP leader, in which she talked candidly about her personal background and motivations.

Ms Foster said: "We shared a cup of tea and agreed to have a more political talk in the new year before my appointment as First Minister.

"Neither of us thought that cup of tea would be our last together."

Former Sunday World editor Jim McDowell summed Liam up in three words: "character, colour and creativity".

Mr Clarke covered the most turbulent days of the Troubles for the Sunday Times, where Mr McDowell said he was cherished for his "insight, incisiveness, and sheer intelligent and intellectual doggedness and independence in covering both paramilitarism and politics, and cutting through the dreary dogma and sometimes deadly propaganda, emanating from whatever quarter".

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he was "stunned and deeply saddened" by Liam's passing. "His career will be hard to summarise, as he was one of the few who seemed to have been a senior journalist throughout the Troubles and beyond, always at the centre of the story," he added.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Liam as "one of the most recognisable names in Irish journalism".

"News of Liam's passing is incredibly sad, especially over the Christmas period," he said.

"Never one to give any politician an easy ride, Liam's enduring professional qualities were his straight talking style and his dogged determination.

"He was a good journalist and a good man, he will be sorely missed."

TUV leader Jim Allister added: "His biography of McGuinness, From Guns to Government, was a tour de force of journalism, which displayed his undoubted skills.

"His role and contribution at the Belfast Telegraph made him a household name for many."

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