By Conor Pope
Highly regarded, controversial foreign correspondent had long relationship with Ireland
Veteran foreign correspondent and author Robert Fisk has died after becoming unwell at his Dublin home on Friday.
It is understood the journalist was admitted to St Vincent’s hospital where he died a short time later. He was 74.
Fisk was one of the most highly regarded and controversial British foreign correspondents of the modern era and was described by the New York Times in 2005 as “probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain”.
He had a long relationship with Ireland dating back to 1972 when he moved to Belfast to work as Northern Ireland correspondent for the London Times at the height of the Troubles.
He subsequently did his PhD in Trinity College, completing a thesis on Ireland’s neutrality during the second World War. He owned a home in Dalkey where he lived for many years.
His career in journalism started with the Sunday Express in London but that relationship was brief and he soon moved to the Times.
After making a name for himself reporting from Northern Ireland for that paper, Fisk relocated briefly to Portugal and then to Beirut where he worked as Middle East correspondent, once again for the Times.
He covered, among other events, the Lebanese civil war, Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq War.
He joined the London Independent in 1989 after a row with the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper and continued to work for that publication until his death. It is understood that he was planning his return to the Middle East in recent days.
Critical of the United States
He reported extensively on the first Gulf War basing himself for a time in Baghdad where he was fiercely critical of other foreign correspondents whom he accused of covering the conflict from their hotel rooms.
He also covered the US-led war wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and frequently condemned US involvement in the region. Fisk was one of very few western reporters to interview Osama Bin Laden, something he did on three occasions in the 1990s.
He also covered five Israeli invasions, the Algerian civil war, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the 2011 Arab revolutions. He worked in the Balkans during the conflict there and more recently covered the conflict in Syria.
He received numerous awards over the course of his career including the Orwell Prize for Journalism, British Press Awards International Journalist of the Year and Foreign Reporter of the Year on multiple occasions.
He was given honorary degrees and doctorates from universities in several countries. And in 2009 was awarded Trinity College Dublin’s Historical Society’s gold medal, bestowed upon those who have made a significant contribution in the public sphere towards forwarding the society’s ideals of debate, discussion and public discourse.
Among his most well regarded books were The Point of No Return: The Strike Which Broke the British in Ulster, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War and The Great War for Civilisation – The Conquest of the Middle East.
President Michael D Higgins expressed his and his wife Sabina’s condolences to Fisk’s family.
“I have learned with great sadness of the death of Robert Fisk. With his passing the world of journalism and informed commentary on the Middle East has lost one of its finest commentators,” said President Higgins.
“I have had the privilege of knowing Robert Fisk since the 1990s, and of meeting him in some of the countries of which he wrote with such great understanding. I met him in Iraq, and last year I had my last meeting with him in Beirut, during my official visit to Lebanon.
“I knew that his taking of Irish citizenship meant a great deal to him. And his influence on young practitioners in journalism and political writing was attested by the huge audiences which attended the occasions on which he spoke in Ireland.”
Mr Higgins said that generations, not only of Irish people but worldwide, relied on Fisk for a critical and informed view of what was taking place in the conflict zones of the world and, even more important, the influences that were perhaps the source of the conflict.
Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent and Pricewatch Editor.