David Andrews' aborted attempt to auction off his copy of the Good Friday Agreement was quite something.
It is hard to imagine other former foreign ministers doing something like that.
Garret FitzGerald was never tempted to auction his copy of the Sunningdale communique on power-sharing from 1973, and as far as I am aware, Peter Barry kept his copy of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 safely in his files in Cork.
Andrews' attempted auction suggests a certain casual attitude towards Northern Ireland policy, and the negative publicity he garnered may well stand as an effective metaphor for the mindset of the department he led when the agreement was being negotiated.
Our Department of Foreign Affairs has gotten used to a fairly good press over the last 30 years. Only one former minister, Dr FitzGerald, discussed life within the department in any serious detail in his memoirs, and give or take a few pushy diplomats and the pandemonium caused by the Littlejohn brothers, he gave the place his blessing.
Academic opinion has, by and large, taken its lead from the sentiments expressed by then Senator JJ Lee in an influential lecture on foreign policy in the Seanad from May 1993 where he said: "We have much to be proud of regarding the conduct of our foreign policy. The Department of Foreign Affairs has frequently suffered from ill-considered criticism... a department which has served the country extraordinarily well over the years."
These sentiments jar badly though when set against the most comprehensive critique of the Department of Foreign Affairs we possess today, namely Dean Godson's absorbing and demanding biography of David Trimble, Himself Alone, from 2004, a book that helps fill in the background for those curious about David Andrews' behaviour.
Godson gives us a bracing portrait of a department on autopilot so far as Northern Ireland policy was concerned.
"An elite core of 300 diplomats," Godson explained, "the DFA was quite unlike any other foreign ministry in the world. In most countries, foreign ministries are the least nationalistic of government departments. In Ireland, it is the most nationalistic (its foil is the Department of Finance, whose culture on Northern questions is partly informed by a dread of paying for the absorption of Ulster into the Republic). In Trimble's view, they always ran rings around British officials – not because of superior ability, but simply because they were convinced of the rightness of their cause and were comparatively guilt-free."
This is probably a polite way of saying that Irish policy on Northern Ireland in the Nineties tended towards an unthinking, even casual, form of aggression that tended to fixate on the cross-border stuff that caused such grief during the Sunningdale era.
Andrews famously represented that cast of mind on one excruciating occasion.
In November 1997, having replaced Ray Burke as Bertie Ahern's second foreign minister, David Andrews stated publicly that the secretariat that would implement the decisions of the mighty cross-border bodies would have what Andrews called "strong executive functions not unlike a Government".
Quite why you needed another government-type entity to coordinate policy on inland waterways and animal health was never explained.
Before too long, Bertie Ahern publicly voided Andrews' analogy, but the damage had been done.
Once again, Trimble's faction within unionism was made to feel like inert pieces on a chessboard, pieces that were spoken at rather than to, even on the gravest questions about their future rulers.
Now you might say Andrews and the DFA were just playing hardball here, and that their hustling on cross-border bodies was nothing more than what lawyers call an invitation to treat.
There is some truth in that for sure, but you do have to wonder about the quality of the thinking that sired that analogy.
This casual nationalism would resurface again famously in the week before the Good Friday Agreement was actually signed when the DFA somehow managed to extract an ambitious list of cross-border bodies from Tony Blair.
Godson got one anonymous Irish mandarin to admit that the long list of areas for cross-border co-operation was put in by a "pro-SDLP zealot on our side. Most of us realised it was excessive".
Against advice from most of his staff, Bertie Ahern again agreed to gut these lists at the crucial hour so as to ensure that Trimble would not leave the negotiations on a destabilising 'Ulster in peril' note.
So, in effect, Ahern decided to become his own Minister for Foreign Affairs in the final stretch, and as a result of that chastening dose of common sense, he got his treaty.
Ahern had no time for the more cosmic theories of some of his diplomats. Happily for us though, Ahern was better at peace than parallels.