Liam Clarke Eminent Journalist

Liam Clarke Eminent Journalist

I thought I should post a tribute to my late cousin Liam Clarke. Liam did more to establish ‘celebrity eminence’ in my close family; probably more so than anyone else? He was undoubtedly extremely brave and courageous during the very difficult times of ‘The Troubles’. Here is his story.

Journalist Liam Clarke ‘a master of words and a good man’

By Staff Reporter

Published 06/01/2016

Mourners at the funeral service for journalist Liam Clarke were told he was more than just “a master with words” – he was “an enormously talented and decent human being”.

The Belfast Telegraph political editor had a rare form of stomach cancer but continued to work right up until his death.

He died suddenly but peacefully early on December 27.

Yesterday friends and family gathered at Roselawn Crematorium near Belfast to pay their last respects to the father, husband, political journalist and Zen Buddhist described by those who knew him as fearless and fair.

He made his name by breaking scores of major stories, and revealed the vast wealth of south Armagh smuggler and senior republican Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, recently convicted of tax evasion.

Among the hundreds of mourners were First Minister Peter Robinson, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, Lady Hermon MP, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson and Labour Northern Ireland shadow secretary Vernon Coaker.

The service began with Liam’s friend, journalist Hugh Jordan, playing musical accompaniment, and featured Buddhist chanting.

In his eulogy, the Rev Earl Storey said: “Liam Clarke was a master with words. Yet his life and work speak more eloquently than any words even he could write. He was an enormously talented and decent human being – a good man.”

Mr Storey said that Liam was “more than a journalist and that his passing is felt most deeply and painfully by those closest to him and who loved him the most” – his wife Kathryn and children Adam, Daniel and Alice”.

Liam’s journalistic career spanned the Troubles, peace process and the Stormont Assembly. He faced IRA death threats after unmasking Murphy and after the publication of a biography of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, his home was raided and he was arrested by police – a move that was successfully challenged by Mr Clarke in the courts.

Born in Drogheda in 1954 to Presbyterian minister the Rev Bill Clarke and his wife Alice, Liam’s political interest came early.

As a pupil at Omagh Academy he and another pupil took a day off school to protest at the killing of civilians on Bloody Sunday.

He became a member of the Workers Party where his journalistic career began on a party newspaper, The Northern People.

He moved to the Sunday News, Sunday World and The Sunday Times for two decades, where he was Northern Ireland editor.

He lived in Ballymena and spent his final four years working for the Belfast Telegraph, where he continued to provide incisive political analysis and exclusive stories.

Liam Clarke: A fearless and formidable journalist who always kept ahead of the pack

Henry McDonald

When thinking and writing about Liam Clarke, two words come to mind: fearless and formidable.

Liam faced his illness, a rare form of cancer, with the same bravery that marked his journalism. His ability to hold on for so long after the terminal diagnosis also demonstrated his formidable personal strength.

Even a week ago, just before his death at home at the weekend, Liam was still scooping the rest of us when it came to political stories. He got ahead of the pack for the Belfast Telegraph with the first interview with First Minister-in-waiting Arlene Foster, shortly after she was elected unopposed to lead the Democratic Unionists. This was yet another example (we didn’t know it would be his last) of Liam getting his story out first.

It is also supremely ironic that the man at the centre of one of Liam’s greatest ever scoops – Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy – is currently awaiting his fate after being found guilty just before Christmas of tax evasion in the Irish Republic.

In Dublin’s Central Criminal Court, Murphy was found guilty of failing to pay his taxes in the south. Back in 1988, no one could ever have imagined ‘Slab’ and his power being challenged through the courts of the land.

In that time, he held sway over the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade and helped through his organisational resources to smuggle tonnes of Colonel Gaddafi’s weapons into Ireland. And in the mini ‘Republic of Fear’ along the border, there was a vow of murderous silence that ensured the likes of Murphy would never be exposed… until Liam Clarke and the Sunday Times investigation team decided to probe the vast wealth of the south Armagh farmer and the allegations that he had been IRA chief of staff.

Murphy sued for libel in 1988, but the paper and Liam held firm, eventually winning the case after several years and exposing ‘Slab’s’ role in the Provisionals’ war. Liam became for a time a marked man and his journalist colleagues know of at least one IRA plot to kill him in the late ’80s.

Yet Liam’s compassion for people regardless of their politics stretched all the way from the fringes of Ulster loyalism to Sinn Fein and IRA members. I know for a fact that Liam found out about a plot to kill a senior Belfast Sinn Fein member by loyalists in the early 1990s. Liam immediately warned him, advising him to change his routine and beef up his security. The warning was heeded and mercifully the attack never took place.

His willingness to help a member of a movement that included others willing to kill Liam at one time was a measure of the man. It was also part of his political philosophy. He saw armed struggle and political violence as not only immoral but futile and counter productive.

This is probably why the young, radical, left-wing student from a Protestant background in the north west joined the post-ceasefire Official Sinn Fein/Republican Clubs, later to become The Workers Party (WP) in the 70s.

By 1980 Liam was co-editor of the WP paper The Northern People and worked alongside future Fortnight editor Robin Wilson. The formidable duo turned the paper from a dull, ideological leftist tract into an often interesting, left-leaning weekly tabloid that even broke some news stories, including, for instance, a scoop about a new plastic baton round the RUC was about to deploy.

However, Liam had ambitions to get into mainstream journalism. While he continued to sympathise with the WP line on Northern Ireland, Liam realised that journalism and political activism shouldn’t really mix. So he struck out in the local media first and quite successfully with The Sunday News, the local News Letter-owned paper that I also worked on as Dublin Correspondent in the early 1990s.

He joined The Sunday Times in 1984 and became a highly regarded member of staff. Its pioneering editor in the ’80s, Andrew Neil, in particular, was highly supportive and admiring of Liam’s work.

While arguably Liam’s greatest scoop was the exposure of Slab Murphy, there were other huge stories that he worked on. He was among the first journalists to suggest there was a super-spy at the heart of the IRA’s counter-intelligence/informer-hunter unit known as Stakeknife.

He could be amusing too with his anecdotes, especially the one he told about being chased by Sean Mac Stiofain, the ex-Provo chief of staff, with a wheel brace after he turned up on his doorstep with a list of questions.

His prose was seamless, particularly in his columns and books. He penned one of the best books about the 1981 hunger strike and its role in the rise of Sinn Fein. His Broadening The Battlefield remains one of the most important works from the 80s for anyone studying the Provisional movement from armed struggle into democratic politics.

When I worked with him on the Sunday Times between 1996 and 1997, he broke a number of important stories about the Drumcree crisis and IRA ceasefires. He encouraged me to sniff out a few scoops of my own, including an LVF plan to foment sectarian strife in east Belfast by burning a Protestant church and then claiming Catholics from the Short Strand were behind it.

Liam was generous with his contacts and advice, often given out over a sensational bottle of red wine in Nick’s Warehouse or upstairs in the Morning Star. And when I had to have surgery to have a tumour excised from my inner thigh in that year, Liam was incredibly supportive.

As a fearless reporter, he saw no difference between standing up to tell the truth about Slab Murphy and challenging the power of the British state. He and his equally formidable wife Kathryn were arrested after they published MI5 and police covert transcripts of conversations between Dr Mo Mowlam and Martin McGuinness.

In 2003, police officers raided the Clarke family home and arrested both Liam and Kathryn over an alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act. They were questioned at Castlereagh Holding Centre for almost a day.

John Witherow, Sunday Times editor at the time, defended them, saying that “the account of phone taps in Northern Ireland poses no threat to national security. It merely embarrasses ministers”.

The material Liam and Kathryn obtained (another classic Liam scoop) exposed a chumminess between Dr Mowlam and Martin McGuinness. The transcripts were later used in the second edition of the couple’s biography on Martin McGuinness, From Guns to Government.

And, typical of both formidable characters, Liam and Kathryn sued the PSNI for wrongful arrest and won, which was just as well as this writer was later arrested over material from the same source as the Clarkes for a ghosted autobiography of a former RUC Special Branch operative. By taking their action, Liam and Kathryn bolstered the cause of free journalism unfettered by political constraints or state control.

When he retired after his long stint as Ireland editor of The Sunday Times, Liam went back to local journalism and became the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor. He seemed to be enjoying a late boost of energy and refreshed interest in local politics. Liam was there for all the big set-piece events that have led to the current power sharing at Stormont. I recall walking with him along a beach at St Andrew’s in 2006 as our conversation oscillated between talk of our respective families and his predictions, ahead of the deal, that Ian Paisley would soon sit down in government with Martin McGuinness. Through his network of contacts, Liam was certain of this positive assessment of where the talks were going, even while the press and media were locked out of the negotiations.

He remained a man of the broad, sensible left and a trade unionist to the end. Our union, the National Union of Journalists, summed up his career in a brief but highly apposite statement about his death on Sunday.

Irish NUJ secretary Seamus Dooley put it thus: “On behalf of the NUJ, I would like to extend sympathy to the family, colleagues and friends of Liam Clarke, political editor of The Belfast Telegraph and a former officer of Belfast and District branch of the NUJ, who has died.

“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.

“In The Sunday Times and, more recently, in the Belfast Telegraph, he covered some of the most significant events in the history of Northern Ireland.

“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. ”

There is that word again – ‘fearless’ – which, combined with a formidable intelligence, knowledge and writing style, best sums up the life and career of Liam Clarke.

Liam Clarke: Brave journalist who exposed IRA boss ‘Slab’ Murphy

Fearless reporter was dogged in pursuit of political scoops

Henry McDonald

Published 28/12/2015 | 02:30

When thinking and writing about Liam Clarke two words come to mind “fearless” and “formidable”.

Liam faced his illness, a rare form of cancer, with the same bravery that marked his journalism. His ability to hold on for so long after the terminal diagnosis also demonstrated his formidable personal strength.

Even a week ago, just before his death at the weekend, Liam was still scooping the rest of us when it came to political stories. He got ahead of the pack for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ with the first interview with First Minister-in-waiting Arlene Foster shortly after she was elected unopposed to lead the Democratic Unionists. This was yet another example (we didn’t know it would be his last) of Liam getting his story out first before the opposition.

It is also supremely ironic that the man at the centre of one of his Liam’s greatest ever scoops – the unmasking of south Armagh smuggler and IRA commander Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy – is currently awaiting his fate after being found guilty just before Christmas of tax evasion.

In the Special Criminal Court, Murphy cut a lone, isolated figure as he was found guilty of failing to pay his taxes in the Republic. Back in 1988 no one could ever have imagined ‘Slab’ and his power being challenged through the courts of the land.

In that time he held sway over the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade and helped through his organisational resources to smuggle tonnes of Colonel Gaddafi’s weapons into Ireland. And in the mini ‘Republic of Fear’ along the border there was a vow of murderous silence that ensured the likes of Murphy would never be exposed.

That was until Liam Clarke and the ‘Sunday Times’ investigation team decided to probe the vast wealth of the South Armagh farmer and the allegations that he had been IRA Chief of Staff.

Murphy sued for libel in 1988 but the paper and Liam held firm, eventually winning the case after several years, and exposing ‘Slab’s’ role in the Provisionals’ war. For this, Liam became for a time a marked man and his journalist colleagues know of at least one IRA plot to kill him in the late 80s.

Yet Liam’s compassion for people regardless of their politics stretched all the way from the fringes of Ulster loyalism to Sinn Féin and IRA members. I know for a fact that Liam found out about a plot to kill a senior Belfast Sinn Féin member by loyalists in the early 1990s. Liam immediately contacted the Sinn Féin activist and warned him about the attack advising him to change his routine and beef up his security.

The warning was heeded and, mercifully, the attack never took place.

His willingness to help a member of a movement that included others willing to kill Liam at one time was a measure of the man. It was also part of his political philosophy. He regarded ‘armed struggle’ and political violence as not only immoral but also futile and counter-productive. This is probably why the young radical left-wing student from a Protestant background in the north west joined the post-ceasefire Official Sinn Féin/Republican Clubs, later to become The Workers Party in the 70s.

By 1980, Liam was co-editor of the WP paper ‘The Northern People’ and worked alongside future ‘Fortnight’ editor Robin Wilson. They were a formidable duo who turned the paper away from being a dull, ideological leftist tract into an often interesting left-leaning weekly tabloid that even broke some news stories including, for instance, a scoop about a new plastic baton round weapon the RUC was about to deploy.

However, Liam had ambitions to get into mainstream journalism away from a party-line paper. While he continued to sympathise with the WP line on Northern Ireland, Liam realised that journalism and political activism shouldn’t really mix. When you sign up to work on a mainstream paper or broadcaster you hand in your party card. So he struck out in the local media first and quite successfully with ‘The Sunday News’, the paper for which I also worked as Dublin correspondent in the early 1990s.

He joined ‘The Sunday Times’ in 1984 and became a highly regarded member staff. Its pioneering editor in the 80s, Andrew Neil, was highly supportive and admiring of Liam’s work.

While arguably Liam’s greatest scoop was the exposure of Slab Murphy, who now faces a prison term for not paying his taxes, there were other huge stories that he worked on. He was among the first journalists to suggest there was a super-spy at the very heart of the IRA’s counter-intelligence/informer-hunter unit known as ‘Stakeknife’.

He could be amusing too with his anecdotes, especially the one he told about being chased with a wheel brace by Sean McStiofian, the former Provo chief of staff. Liam had turned up on his doorstep with a list of questions about his career.

In the craft of writing, his prose was seamless, particularly in his columns and the books he wrote. He penned one of the best books about the 1981 hunger strike and its role in the rise of Sinn Fein. His ‘Broadening The Battlefield’ remains one of the most important works from the 80s for anyone studying the trajectory of the Provisional movement from out of the cul-de-sac of armed struggle into normal democratic politics.

When I worked with him on the ST between 1996 and 1997, he broke a number of important stories about the Drumcree crisis and the IRA ceasefires.

He encouraged me to sniff out a few scoops of my own including an LVF plan to foment sectarian strife in east Belfast by burning a Protestant church and then spreading lies that Catholics from the Short Strand were behind it.

Liam was generous with his contacts and his advice often given out over a sensational bottle of red wine in Nick’s Warehouse or upstairs in the Morning Star, the latter a particular favourite meeting place for us and our contacts at the time.

And when I had to have surgery to have a tumour excised from my inner thigh in that year Liam was incredibly supportive as I took time out to recover from the operation.

Being a fearless reporter, Liam saw no difference between standing up to tell the truth about Slab Murphy or challenging the power of the British state.

He and his equally formidable wife Kathryn were arrested after they published MI5 and police covert transcripts of conversations between Dr Mo Mowlam and Martin McGuinness.

In 2003 police officers raided the Clarke family home and arrested both Liam and Kathryn over an alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act. They were taken to Castlereagh Holding Centre and questioned for almost a day about the transcripts.

The material Liam and Kathryn obtained (yet another classic Liam scoop) exposed a chumminess between Dr Mowlam and Martin McGuinness.

The transcripts were later used in the second edition of the couple’s biography on Martin McGuinness, ‘From Guns to Government’.

Typical of both formidable characters, Liam and Kathryn sued the PSNI for wrongful arrest and won. By taking their legal action, Liam and Kathryn bolstered the cause of free journalism unfettered by political constraints or state control.

When he retired after his long stint as Ireland Editor of the ‘Sunday Times’, Liam went back to local journalism and became Political Editor of the ‘Belfast Telegraph’.

Energy

He seemed to be enjoying a late boost of energy and refreshed interest in local politics.

Liam was there for all the big set-piece events that have led to the current power sharing arrangement at Stormont.

I recall walking with him along a beach at St Andrews in 2006 as our conversation oscillated between talk of our respective families and his predictions, ahead of the deal, that Ian Paisley would soon sit down in government with Martin McGuinness.

Through his network of contacts, Liam was certain of this positive assessment of where the talks were going even while the press and media were locked out of the negotiations.

He remained a man of the broad, sensible left and was a trade unionist to the end.

Irish NUJ 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. In ‘The Sunday Times’, and more recently, in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ he covered some of the most significant events in the history of Northern Ireland.

“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.”

There is that word again – ‘fearless’ which combined with a formidable intelligence, knowledge and writing style best sums up the life and career of Liam Clarke.

Henry McDonald is Ireland correspondent for ‘The Guardian’ and ‘Observer’

Irish Independent

Liam Clarke hailed a ‘giant of journalism’ following sudden death

Published 27/12/2015

DUP leader and First Minister-in-waiting Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have paid their respects to the Belfast Telegraph’s Political editor, Liam Clarke, following his sudden death.

The award-winning journalist and author passed away last night.

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

Mr Clarke joined the Belfast Telegraph as political editor in 2011.

Previously he had worked at the Sunday Times as its Northern Ireland editor for 20 years before becoming a columnist for the paper.

In 2014 he was named CIPR journalist of the year.

Tributes have been paid to Mr Clarke across social media.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was shocked when she heard of Mr Clarke’s passing describing him as a “giant of journalism”.

“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.

Colleagues and politicians pay tribute to journalist Liam Clarke

Sun, Dec 27, 2015, 19:15

Gerry Moriarty

Former Belfast Telegraph political editor died ‘suddenly but peacefully’ on Saturday night.

Clarke as a journalist with the Sunday Times and the Belfast Telegraph covered Northern Ireland through much of the Troubles and then on to the peace process and the political settlement.

His wife, Kathryn Johnston, with whom he co-wrote the book, Martin McGuinness: From Guns To Government, wrote on Facebook on Sunday, “I am very sorry to say that Liam Clarke died very suddenly but peacefully last night”.

Clarke was the Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times for 20 years and later was a columnist for the newspaper. He was appointed political editor of the Belfast Telegraph in 2011 and was writing for the newspaper up until very recently.

For a period in the 1970s and before becoming a full time journalist he was a member of Official Sinn Féin, later to transform into the Workers’ Party.

He covered most of the major Northern stories of the past 30 years and was also a regular broadcast commentator. He was involved in exposing the paramilitary criminal wealth amassed by Thomas Slab Murphy who was recently convicted of tax evasion.

The Sunday Times successfully defended a lengthy defamation case taken by Murphy against the newspaper, with Dublin juries twice branding Murphy a liar and an IRA man who planned murder and bombing.

In 2014 Mr Clarke won the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) journalist of the year award.

In June last year Mr Clarke wrote about how just before Christmas 2013 a consultant told him he feared he was suffering a rare form of stomach cancer, PMP or Pseudomyxoma Peritonei – a diagnosis that was confirmed in March 2014.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, he practised Zen Buddhism which he said helped him face up to the possibility of imminent death. “The beauty of life in the face of death is a very Zen concept,” he wrote in the Belfast Telegraph. “Every moment should be lived as if it was our last – as it could be. It isn’t a delay to be endured while waiting for something better, it is complete in itself.”

Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists described Mr Clarke as a “fearless journalist”. Offering his condolences to his family, colleagues and friends he added, “He was never afraid to challenge authority and was always prepared to stand up for the principle of media freedom.”

The DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was “shocked and saddened” to learn of his death and how only last week they enjoyed a cup of tea together in Lisburn. “As a journalist Liam had an ability to cut through all the padding and get right to the core of a story,” she said.

First Minister Peter Robinson, offering condolences to Clarke’s family, said, “Liam has left a journalistic legacy which will undoubtedly be studied by future generations in that field. His achievements are too numerous to list.”

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was “sorry to hear Liam Clarke has died” and offered his sympathy and condolences to his family.

The Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers said Mr Clarke was a “very talented journalist who will be sadly missed”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said he was “stunned and saddened” by Mr Clarke’s death, adding that “his work demands respect”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Clarke had “one of the most recognisable names in Irish journalism”.

“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,” he said.

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said he was “sad” to learn of Mr Clarke’s death. He described his biography of Mr McGuinness as a “tour de force of journalism”.

Labour senator Mairia Cahill said Mr Clarke was an “excellent journalist” who was “fair, balanced, and determined”.

 

Tributes to Belfast Telegraph journalist Liam Clarke after sudden death

27 December 2015

Tributes have been paid to veteran journalist and author Liam Clarke after he died suddenly on Saturday night.

His most recent position was the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor, which he took up in 2011.

He had previously worked at the Sunday Times as its Northern Ireland editor for 20 years before becoming a columnist for the paper.

Mr Clarke was also a regular contributor to BBC Northern Ireland’s political programmes.

In 2014, he was named journalist of the year by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Following

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, a former journalist, said he was “stunned and deeply saddened” by Mr Clarke’s death.

“Liam was hugely professional, always probing and persistent, yet also totally trustworthy,” Mr Nesbitt said.

“He was someone worth reading, listening to and following.

“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.”

Scoop

Last year, Mr Clarke had spoken publicly about his diagnosis with a rare form of cancer, but he continued to work up until his death.

Gail Walker, the editor of the Belfast Telegraph, said Mr Clarke had been the pre-eminent political journalist of his generation.

“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,” Ms Walker said.

“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.”

Family

Mrs Foster, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, said her thoughts and prayers were also with Mr Clarke’s family.

“As a journalist Liam had an ability to cut through all the padding and get right to the core of a story,” she said.

“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.”

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister, said he was sorry to learn of Mr Clarke’s passing.

Distinguished

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said Mr Clarke had been “a household name for many”.

“His biography of McGuinness, From Guns to Government, was a tour de force of journalism, which displayed his undoubted skills,” he added.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Clarke was a “good journalist and a good man”.

“Liam Clarke is one of the most recognisable names in Irish journalism,” he said.

“That’s due not only to his distinguished career and remarkable work ethic, but to his warm character and his good nature.

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