Tributes paid to veteran journalist Liam Clarke following his death

Liam Clarke,  pictured at his home in Ballymena in June 2014
Liam Clarke, pictured at his home in Ballymena in June 2014

Tributes have been paid to ‘tour de force of journalism’ Liam Clarke who has died.

Mr Clarke, a veteran journalist from Ballymena in Co Antrim who made public his diagnosis of stomach cancer in recent years, died after taking ill last night.

In a Facebook post his wife Kathryn Johnston said: “I am very sorry to say that Liam Clarke died very suddenly but peacefully last night.”

Paying tribute to Mr Clarke, who was in his 60s, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “I was at a constituent’s funeral when I heard the news about Liam’s passing. I was shocked. I met Liam in Lisburn just last week. We talked about his health and his family as well as mine. He was very interested - off the record of course.

“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. In fact, we were already thinking of what that interview would look like and where it would be done.”

Mrs Foster added that “as a journalist Liam had an ability to cut through all the padding and get right to the core of a story”.

“He will be missed by us as politicians but of course our grief is overshadowed by that of his family whom he loved dearly and often spoke,” she said.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Kathryn and their three children. On behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party I express our dearest sympathy.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “I am saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Liam Clarke.

“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.

“Sincere condolences to his family at this sad time.”

Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Mike Nesbitt told of his shock and sadness at the untimely passing of Mr Clarke.

Mr Nesbitt said: “I am stunned and deeply saddened to hear of Liam’s death. At this time, our first thoughts are with his family, friends and many colleagues, not least in the Belfast Telegraph.

“Liam was hugely professional, always probing and persistent, yet also totally trustworthy.

“I remember him as a senior print journalist with the Sunday Times when I began my career with BBC Northern Ireland. He was someone worth reading, listening to and following.”

He added: “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.”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA also paid tribute to him as “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.

“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.

“I want to extend my deepest sympathies and those of the SDLP to Liam’s family and friends at this very difficult time.”

News Letter journalist Billy Kennedy also paid tribute to Mr Clarke as “an excellent investigative journalist who very courageously covered sensitive stories during the difficult days of the Troubles”.

“I met him when he worked for Sunday News which was part of Century News operation in Donegall Street and I found him to be a very affable colleague,” added Mr Kennedy.

“I knew that he had been in ill health over recent times but as a professional he worked up until recent weeks. Liam was an old school journalist whose contribution to newspapers in Northern Ireland over the past four decades was very significant.”