Tributes paid to Belfast Telegraph political editor and former Sunday Times Northern Ireland chief Liam Clarke

Tributes have been paid following the death of award-winning journalist and author Liam Clarke.

The former Northern Ireland editor of The Sunday Times, a post he held for 20 years through the Troubles, and subsequently the Belfast Telegraph's political editor, died on 26 December.

Gail Walker, Belfast Telegraph editor, described Clarke as the pre-eminent political journalist of his generation.

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of our friend and colleague Liam," she said. "Indeed, just a few days ago Liam delivered what was to sadly prove his last big exclusive, a brilliant in-depth interview with First Minister-in-waiting Arlene Foster.

"Liam told me how much he'd enjoyed the encounter and I know he got a great buzz from landing yet another scoop.

"On behalf of his many friends at the Belfast Telegraph and our sister paper Sunday Life, I wish to extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Kathy, sons Adam and Daniel and daughter Alice."

Martin Ivens, editor of The Sunday Times, said: "All of us who worked with Liam during his long service at The Sunday Times are deeply saddened by the news of his death. He was a fine, brave man and an exceptional journalist. I admired him enormously for his integrity and loyalty in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances."

Former Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson brought Clarke to the newspaper from The Sunday Times.

Gilson, now group editor of Newsquest Sussex, said: "Liam Clarke was the best journalist appointment I ever made as an editor. His contacts book was bulging with incredible names and he was respected by all he ever wrote about, even if they didn't like what he said about them at the time. He was whipcrack smart with a fantastic memory for facts and events. He understood the nuances of Northern Ireland politics and culture more than anyone else I knew and was an invaluable guide to this English editor during six fantastic years in Belfast.

"Beyond that he was a wonderful man and good friend. I'll miss him greatly."

Richard McClean, managing director of Independent News & Media (NI), also expressed condolences.

"Liam made a huge contribution to the Belfast Telegraph and to the political landscape here and while his death is first and foremost a huge loss to his loved ones, it is also a sad loss to the wider political community," he said.

Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: "I am saddened to hear of the death of Liam Clarke earlier today. He was a very talented journalist who will be sadly missed."

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "I'm sorry to hear Liam Clarke has died. My sympathy and condolences to his family."

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster said she had spoken to Clarke last week in Lisburn where she inquired about his health.

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

"Neither of us thought that cup of tea would be our last together. In fact, we were already thinking of what that interview would look like and where it would be done."

She added: "As a journalist Liam had an ability to cut through all the padding and get right to the core of a story."

Clarke's wife Kathryn announced her husband's death.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood spoke of his legacy.

"Liam Clarke is one of the most recognisable names in Irish journalism. That's due not only to his distinguished career and remarkable work ethic but to his warm character and his good nature. News of Liam's passing is incredibly sad, especially over the Christmas period," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, himself a former journalist, said: "Liam was hugely professional, always probing and persistent, yet also totally trustworthy.

"News journalists do a job that some people do not always like, so the journalist's ambition must be to earn respect, which is quite a challenge in a divided society like ours. Liam won that universal respect, deservedly so."

Clarke had written about his battle against a rare form of cancer in articles for the Belfast Telegraph.

The National Union of Journalists also paid tribute, describing his work as insightful, authoritative and, at times, provocative but always deserving respect across the political divide.

First Minister Peter Robinson said he was shocked to hear about Clarke's death and offered his condolences.

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

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

Robinson added: "Liam has left a journalistic legacy which will undoubtedly be studied by future generations in that field. His achievements are too numerous to list."

In a joint statement, the First Minister and Deputy First ministers offered their condolences to Clarke's family.

"Although battling illness in recent times, Liam continued to write on a regular basis for the Belfast Telegraph," they said.

"Liam's death is a massive loss to his family and also to his many colleagues and friends in the Belfast Telegraph and wider media.

"We are thinking of his family at this sad time and we will remember them in our thoughts and prayers."

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