The Times We Lived In – Portrait of a politician under pressure

Published: January 22nd, 1983. Photograph by Peter Thursfield

Now, hands up who recognises this news story? Clue: it was dubbed “Ireland’s Watergate”.

Our photograph was taken in the midst of a major political hoo-ha, on a day when two prominent members of Fianna Fáil resigned from the party’s front bench. The picture shows one of them, Mr Ray MacSharry, at a press conference in Leinster House.

Mr MacSharry was famous for his self-control: always immaculate, in both dress and language. On this occasion, he was armed with a carefully-worded statement, only for his body language to betray him completely.

As a portrait of a politician under pressure, this picture would be masterful enough. But what is it a picture of, really? Yep. A tape recorder.


And that’s the news story, right there. While he was Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Mr MacSharry had recorded a conversation he shouldn’t have, using a machine which belonged, not to him, but to An Garda Siochána.

Of course, as he explained in his statement, he didn’t know the machine belonged to the Garda – even though it had been brought to his office by the Deputy Garda Commissioner, which might give most people a moment’s pause.

Our photographer has spotted a machine on the table at the press conference, and made it loom up in the foreground of the picture, while Mr MacSharry is relegated to the background, the very image of a child who’s been put on the naughty step.

Technically, our photographer is being naughty too. I’d be willing to bet that the tape recorder in the picture has also been borrowed – since it’s the only one in sight, it more than likely belongs to RTÉ.

But then, it’s not against the law to take a picture of a tape recorder.

As for the carafe of water, is it half-empty or half-full? The latter, is the correct answer, for Mr MacSharry survived his chastisement and went on to have a long and successful career in politics.

Arminta Wallace

These and other “Irish Times” images can be purchased from: A book, “The Times We Lived In”, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.