Liam Clarke: ahead of the pack

Adam Morton looks back at the life of the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor.

One of Northern Ireland’s journalistic giants, Liam Clarke recently passed away after a battle with a rare form of stomach cancer. Renowned for his dogged determination and fearlessness, Clarke was highly respected by all who knew him.

Clarke’s passion for politics became clear for all to see during his time as a student when the young Protestant joined the post-ceasefire official Sinn Fein/Republican Clubs later to become known as the Workers Party in the 1970s. Whilst always passionate about politics, Liam’s heart lay in the art of journalism and by 1980 he was co-editor of the Worker’s Party paper The Northern People. It was during this time that the paper became less of an ideological leftist tract and became a more left-leaning newspaper.

Clarke began to realise that political activism and journalism do not good bedfellows make and in 1981 began working as political correspondent for the Sunday News. By 1987 Clarke was the Northern Ireland Editor of The Sunday Times.

During this period, he was at the forefront of reporting in Northern Ireland, it was his scoop about Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy that revealed the south Armagh farmer’s role in the IRA. This story, and Clarke’s subsequent legal victory in the ensuing libel case made him a marked man. However, Clarke remained compassionate for all people regardless of their politics, whether they were an Ulster Loyalist or an ardent IRA member. 

He saw no difference between standing up to tell all about the Republics role in the conflict or the British State. Indeed, after the publication of MI5 and police covert transcripts of conversation between Mo Mowlam and Martin McGuiness, both Clarke and his wife Kathryn were arrested for alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act.

Clarke ‘retired’ as Northern Ireland Editor of the Sunday Times in 2007 but that same year he took up a position as a columnist for the Sunday Times and in January 2011 became Political Editor of the Belfast Telegraph.

Perhaps, the left wing trade unionist is best described by Irish NUJ secretary, Seamus Dooley who stated that Clarke was a fearless journalist never afraid to challenge authority and someone who always stood 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.”

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