One of the most respected Irish journalists in Westminster politics, Des McCartan, formerly of the Belfast Telegraph, died last week from head injuries sustained in a fall on 22 March.
Mr McCartan joined the Belfast Telegraph from the East Antrim Times in 1968, aged 20, and throughout most of the 1970s, all of the 1980s and 1990s, covered the House of Commons and House of Lords. He left the parliamentary lobby in 2001 to work for the then Leader of the House, the late Robin Cook.
Des, who was 68 and originally from Larne, was taken to St Mary’s Hospital in West London but never regained consciousness and his life support was removed last week.
Former Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Tony Blair paid one of many tributes to the reporter turned press officer: “I was very sad to hear about the tragic and untimely death of Des McCartan. Des was a much respected, insightful and widely admired journalist, professional to the core. Although he spent most of his career in Westminster, he was passionate about Northern Ireland and its people – and that was reflected in his always sensitive and thoughtful coverage of the peace process. He will be sorely missed by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him for the kind and compassionate man that he was.”
Mr Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who worked alongside Des when he was a political editor for The Daily Mirror said: “I am so sad to hear of Des’s death. He was a fine journalist and a good man. He was a kind, courteous and helpful colleague when I was a fellow lobby reporter, and someone who was always straight and good-natured when I dealt with him as Tony Blair’s press secretary.
“He was acutely aware of the special place in the politics of Northern Ireland that the Bel Tel had, and he took real care over what he reported and thought deeply about the impact his reporting could have. He cared deeply about the story because he cared deeply about where he came from.”
One of Mr Campbell’s successors at The Mirror, Jason Beattie, recalled on Twitter just how wide-ranging Des’s contacts were: “Des once asked the Telegraph office to stop being so rowdy as he was on the phone to Bill Clinton”.
The current editor of the Belfast Telegraph, Gail Walker, said: “Over many years of momentous incidents and historic upheaval in parliament and at home, Des provided a steady analysis in every sense – measured, balanced, insightful and authoritative.
“In a profession often wrongly caricatured, he was one of those journalists who went about their work quietly, credibly and with huge integrity.
“Des was also a wonderfully warm and decent human being, qualities which helped him to build an enviable network of contacts and endeared him to many younger journalists, including myself, whom he mentored with great generosity of time, spirit and friendship. He was vastly respected and will be very much missed by his colleagues in this newspaper and elsewhere.”
Former Belfast Telegraph editor Martin Lindsay, who hired Des at the East Antrim Times, added: “I recall us covering the Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast. One explosion just beside our offices went off shaking the whole building. I was dictating a story to Des, who was typing. As I stopped speaking, in shock, he said, ‘Do you want a full stop here or a comma?’”
Date of death March 22 2017, London, peacefully at St Mary’s Hospital. Beloved husband of Margaret and loving father of Claire. Dearest brother of Gabrielle, Paul, Claire, Bernadette and the late Brendan RIP. Very deeply regretted by his wife, daughter, son-in-law Jim, grandchildren Tia and Sean, brother, sisters and entire family circle.
A requiem mass will be held at Ealing Abbey in west London, at 2pm on Friday 21 April, followed by cremation in Mortlake, 4:45 pm.