Thursday, August 30, 2007

Last Hack in Ulster made redundant

The end of the troubles means a cutback of Sunday Times news coverage in Northern Ireland, reports the mediaGuardian. That's why the Ulster office is no more.

The Sunday Times is closing down its Northern Irish operation and making its Ulster editor, Liam Clarke, redundant.

Clarke, who has worked for the paper for about 20 years and been on staff for more than 16 years, said he was leaving because the post had been made redundant "due to the changing news agenda".

The veteran has been at the forefront of some of the biggest and riskiest stories covered by the paper during the Northern Irish troubles.

But it seems that peace in the region, combined with budgetary restraints due to investment in new printing presses at the Sunday Times, have led to the closure of the post.

Clarke annnounced his departure to colleagues in an email, in which he said he had enjoyed his work.

"I had some great colleagues who I learnt a lot from.

"The redundancy settlement which is now being finalised should give me an opportunity to take stock without too much pressure to commit to anything full time or permanent straight away.

"People have suggested a few projects to me as the news of my departure filtered out. I plan to check all of these out in the coming weeks and, meantime, I am open to any other paying propositions.

"A drinks do might be a solitary affair as I was the only one in Belfast. However, we can have mini versions if any of you are over this way.

"Apart from that if I can be of any help do get in touch."

Clarke follows a number of news staffers out of the door over the past six months, including Whitehall editor Robert Winnett, social affairs editor John Elliott, night editor Maurice Chittenden, focus editor Paul Nuki, reporters Will Iredale and Gareth Walsh and education correspondent Geraldine Hackett.

Clarke's departure marks an end to one of the most turbulent news reporting careers on the paper, during which he frequently covered terrorism, extortion and crime.

In September last year, the Police Service of Northern Ireland agreed to pay substantial damages to Clarke after his home was raided following the publication of confidential political conversations between Sinn Féin and British government officials.

Clarke and his wife complained to police following the raid in May 2003, which was triggered by the publication of the transcripts of conversations between Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness and government officers, including Jonathan Powell, the prime minister's chief of staff.

The raid was carried out under the Official Secrets Act, but Clarke and Ms Johnston successfully argued that the wrong type of warrant had been used to gain entry to their home in Ballymena. They were held for five hours at Antrim police station, but never charged with any offence.

The transcripts were contained in the couple's unauthorised biography of Mr McGuinness entitled From Guns to Government, which contained the transcripts and suggested they had been obtained by phone-tapping. The tapes, it has been alleged, were made by the security services or the police.

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