Tributes have been paid following the death of award-winning journalist and author Liam Clarke.

The former Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times, a post he held for 20 years through the Troubles, and subsequently the Belfast Telegraph's political editor, died last night.

Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: "I am saddened to hear of the death of Liam Clarke earlier today. He was a very talented journalist who will be sadly missed."

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "I'm sorry to hear Liam Clarke has died. My sympathy and condolences to his family."

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster said she had spoken to Mr Clarke last week in Lisburn where she inquired about his health.

"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 said.

"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."

She added: "As a journalist Liam had an ability to cut through all the padding and get right to the core of a story."

Mr Clarke's wife Kathryn announced her husband's death.

Mr Clarke had written about his battle against a rare form of cancer in articles for the Belfast Telegraph.

The National Union of Journalists also paid tribute, describing his work as insightful, authoritative and, at times, provocative but always deserving respect across the political divide.

Gail Walker, Belfast Telegraph editor, described Mr Clarke as the pre-eminent political journalist of his generation.

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of our friend and colleague Liam," she said. "Indeed, 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.

"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."