Former Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews has withdrawn the original and official copy of the final Good Friday Agreement, which he put up for sale secretly through a Dublin auctioneering firm.
"I'm withdrawing it from the auction. It was a misjudgement on my part," the retired Fianna Fail minister told the Sunday Independent yesterday after he was questioned on his decision to part with his copy of the historic document.
Mr Andrews declined to discuss the matter further.
The document, which consists of the final proposal with a cover-sheet memorandum issued only to those present on the last day of the 1998 peace negotiations, contains the signatures of the then British prime minister Tony Blair, the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former US senator George Mitchell among other political luminaries. It had been due to go under the hammer at Whyte's famous 'History, Literature and Collectibles' auction on January 26.
According to the catalogue, it was expected to sell for between €3,000 and €5,000.
That Mr Andrews confirmed his ownership of the documents at all may come as something of a surprise to the people at Whyte's.
Indeed, a report carried in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times said the renowned Dublin auctioneers had been "sworn to secrecy" in relation to the identity of the document's owner.
The papers also carry the signatures of the then Northern secretary, the late Marjorie 'Mo' Mowlam, ex-SDLP leader John Hume, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, decommissioning chief General John de Chastelain as well as Mr Andrews himself.
That relatively modest guide price would more than likely have been surpassed easily at auction, however, given Whyte's own description of the document's "extreme scarcity".
It was also suggested in the auction brochure that Mr Andrews's copy might be the only one in existence to bear the signatures of the participants in the Good Friday talks.
The document's cover-sheet memorandum, which bears the title 'Final Agreement', is dated April 10, 1998, and was issued from the Office of the Independent Chairmen, which had been headed up by Gen De Chastelain and former Finnish prime minister, the late Harri Holkeri.
In their note to the participants, they said: "This is, in all likelihood, our last Memorandum to you. We take this occasion to thank each of you for your courtesy. It has been a pleasure to work with you."
Commenting on the historical significance of the document that had been offered for sale by Mr Andrews, Whyte's auction brochure said: "The Belfast or Good Friday Agreement was the major political development of the Northern Ireland peace process, and this document is recognised as bringing the long chapter of the Troubles in Ireland's history to a close. An excellent opportunity to acquire one of Ireland's most historically important documents."