BEFORE the Brexit vote in 2016 the internalised 'Northern Ireland plc' solution was having a day. All seemed rosy in the sunny uplands of the union.

In 2013 then Economy Minister Foster said that she was advocating for a border poll, as it would consolidate the position of Northern Ireland in the British union. Coincidentally, that was also the year she was first informed that the cash for ash renewable heat scheme was a bit too generous. Irish unity looked aspirational rather than achievable.

36 months later and the people of the North voted to remain in the European Union, while the people of England and Wales voted to Brexit. Only the DUP supported Brexit locally. A border poll was mentioned more regularly than ever before but some, even in nationalism, called that irresponsible. The local population were asked to swallow Brexit as 'democracy' in action. But they did not. As governance in the six counties became untenable with unionism’s refusal to share power and a hard Brexit was threatened, the population began to have a concerted debate on what local democracy should actually look like. And that debate has not ended.

Polling this week places Irish unity, before a single official policy paper is published, as the first choice of nearly half the population. For those under the age of 45, that figure is higher. Irish unity is the debate of our time and it is growing in popularity.

Is it tenable for our aspirations, choices and wellbeing to be held in London, which cares less than nothing for us? London, which imposes the Legacy Act upon us against our will? London, which denies us the vote to decide our own future? London, which prevents us from rejoining the European Union?

It increasingly seems that the local population think not. Every day we see statistics which place us at the bottom of economic or social leagues, whether on the rest of the island or on the island of Britain. We know better is possible. 

British government actions of the past weeks tell us exactly what they think of us. They disinvest in our public services and refuse to fund local infrastructure and then tell us to pay up for any shortfall. It is like a Tory version of that old saying: give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Drain the sea, put a hole in the boat, tell the man to find his own fish and expect him to be grateful for it!

Meanwhile, the Irish government is funding nursing students, building roads, offering to pay for Casement Park, funding a bridge at Narrow Water and talking the talk of sharing the island. All exceptionally welcome and positive developments, which should not only make lasting differences, but create the environment where the prospects of unity can never be called illegitimate or unreasonable again. 

But it is not enough. The public is way ahead of establishment media and policy makers. The unity debate is happening everywhere and what unity will look like is being imagined in people’s heads. Do democracy and choice really have to wait?  

The Irish government need to agree the terms for calling a border poll. The date needs to be set and effective planning moved at pace. Talking about planning but not planning is just irresponsible at this stage.