Monday 19 March 2018

Tributes to reporter who unmasked Slab Murphy

Warm tributes flood in from across political spectrum

Liam Clarke in his home office in Ballymena, Co Antrim, last year Photo: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Liam Clarke in his home office in Ballymena, Co Antrim, last year Photo: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Liam Clarke with his wife Kathryn Johnston at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in 2003 Photo: Trevor McBride
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Tributes have been paid across the political and media spheres to Liam Clarke, the veteran political journalist who unmasked Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy and successfully described him as the IRA’s “Officer Commanding for the whole of Northern Ireland”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, Britain’s Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last night led tributes to Mr Clarke, who had been suffering from a rare form of stomach cancer.

‘Belfast Telegraph’ editor Gail Walker, where Mr Clarke had worked as political editor since 2011, described him as “the pre-eminent political journalist of his generation”.

The former ‘Sunday Times’ journalist was part of a team which successfully defended a libel action by Mr Murphy, whom the jury found was a prominent member of the IRA.

Mr Murphy was recently convicted of tax evasion at the Special Criminal Court.

Mr Clarke is survived by his journalist wife Kathryn Johnston, sons Adam and Daniel and daughter Alice.

Ed McCann, group managing editor of Independent News and Media, which owns the 'Belfast Telegraph', said Mr Clarke had "unrivalled knowledge" of and "boundless enthusiasm" for politics in Northern Ireland.

"He showed neither fear nor favour in his journalism and the flood of tributes from all sides of the political spectrum in Northern Ireland bears tribute to that," said Mr McCann, who worked with Mr Clarke for more than four years.

"On a personal level, he was a true gentleman and great company. He will be sadly missed by all who had the privilege of working with him."

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

Though suffering from cancer, Mr Clarke (63) continued his work leading the news agenda and breaking major stories in the 'Belfast Telegraph'.

Ms 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 has 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 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.

"When he interviewed me before I announced my retirement, he was in good spirits and had given me a more encouraging report on his health than had been the case before."

Mr Robinson said he was shocked to hear of Mr Clarke's death, adding that his achievements "are too numerous to list".

Ms Villiers described him 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 and condolences to his family."

Liam Clarke 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 as 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 Thomas 'Slab' Murphy.

Irish Independent

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