Michelle O'Neill has predicted that a successful vote for a united Ireland will happen in the next 10 years.
The deputy First Minister also said the "reckless" actions of the UK Government over Brexit could persuade more people to vote for Irish unity.
Her comments were made in an interview on the Guardian Weekly Politics Podcast.
She also discussed the death of John Hume, growing up in Co Tyrone during the Troubles, being inspired to enter politics by the Good Friday Agreement, and her relationship with First Minister Arlene Foster.
Ms O'Neill said the "blatant disregard" shown by the government over Brexit had opened up the discussion on Irish unity, including for unionists.
"I can tell you this, in my whole lifetime I have never witnessed the level of conversation that is now under way," she said.
"But also the Boris Johnson strategy in terms of Covid-19. We would have lost a lot more people to Covid-19 had the Assembly here not had the ability to take its own path."
She continued: "Now is the time to plan for unity and to start to put the facts on the table. Let people understand what does an all-Ireland health service look like, what does an all-Ireland education system look like.
"We now need to put that information out for all to see and let them make an informed choice, because I believe we are now in a decade of opportunity and I believe in the next number of years, certainly before the end of this decade, we will have voted for a united Ireland."
She added that both British and Irish identity would be "cherished equally," but that many would vote in a border poll to return to the European Union.
"So for a lot of people in this decade we have in front of us, they're going to be considering which union they wish to be part of and the EU have offered us a route back in," she said. "So for some people it may not be about Britishness versus Irishness, it may be about do they value their European citizenship. I think that's going to be a very interesting debate."
Born in 1977, she spoke of growing up in a happy home with her parents and younger brother, but how the conflict around her became normalised.
She recalled one of her earliest memories was of soldiers raiding the family home.
On the passing of John Hume, she said it marked "the start of the end of an era".
Ms O'Neill described "a very good, constructive" working relationship with Mrs Foster, adding: "I've been quite pleased with the work that we've been able to do and the relationship we've been able to build for the betterment of the people that we serve."
Asked if Mrs Foster was tough to get on with, she said: "We all have our own personality traits don't we, but I think Arlene and I have been able to strike quite a good working relationship where we've been able to have quite constructive conversations which is necessary as we work together as joint head of government."