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Ministers lead tributes to regional daily political editor

COM_2014-06-11_OPI_024_31957976_I1An award-winning regional daily political writer hailed as a “giant” of journalism has died following a battle with cancer.

Liam Clarke, left, joined the Belfast Telegraph as political editor in 2011 after previously having worked as Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times for 20 years.

Leading Northern Ireland politicians and fellow journalists led the tributes to Liam following his death earlier this week.

Liam, who was in his early 60s, had been battling a rare form of cancer.

His wife, Kathryn said on Facebook: “I am very sorry to say that Liam Clarke died very suddenly but peacefully last night.”

Democratic Unionist Party leader and First Minister-elect Arlene Foster said she was shocked when she heard of Liam’s passing describing him as a “giant of journalism”.

“I met Liam in Lisburn just last week. 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 told the Bel Tel.

“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.

“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.”

Outgoing First Minister Peter Robinson added: “Liam has been reporting on politics for almost as long as I have been in politics.

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

National Union of Journalists Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley said: “Liam was a fearless journalist. He was never afraid to challenge authority and was always prepared to stand up for the principle of media freedom.

“As a columnist he was  insightful, authoritative and, at times provocative. He commanded respect across the political divide and his death is a loss to journalism in Northern Ireland.”

Former Bel Tel editor Mike Gilson told HTFP: “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 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.”

Current editor Gail Walker also paid tribute to Liam in a leader column. A fuller obituary written by Henry Macdonald can be read here.