A deal bringing disaffected unionists back into the government in Belfast has left Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with one less thing to worry about.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain took an unaccustomed victory lap on Monday, visiting Belfast to celebrate the restoration of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government. His ministers struck a deal last week that brought the North’s disaffected unionists back into the territory’s assembly.
For Mr. Sunak, who is embattled on so many other fronts, it was a rare unalloyed success — significant not just because it ended two years of political stalemate in Northern Ireland, but also because, some analysts believe, it could shore up a United Kingdom that has seemed in danger of spinning apart since Brexit.
With the revival of self-government in Northern Ireland, diplomats and analysts said, the spotlight will shift away from the tantalizing prospect of uniting the North with the Irish Republic and shine on everyday issues like cutting waiting times at hospitals or giving pay raises to public workers.
“There was a head of steam building on the issue of Irish unity,” said Katy Hayward, professor of politics at Queen’s University in Belfast. “Nothing was working, everything was broken, so people were thinking about the alternative. If you have the institutions working, it relieves the pressure a little.”
None of this is to say that the dream of a united Ireland has slipped away. Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party, has the largest number of seats in the assembly, a status that allowed its leader, Michelle O’Neill, to be installed on Saturday as the first minister in the government, a moment laden with symbolism. She said she could foresee a referendum on unifying Ireland within the next decade.
For the first time since the 1921 partition that has kept the North under British rule, Catholics, who tend to favor reunification, constitute a plurality of the population in the territory. In the South, polls suggest that Sinn Fein, which has vestigial ties to the Irish Republican Army, could vault into leading the government after elections next year.