The timeframe for excavation and identification of remains at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam depends on what is found.
That's according to Daniel MacSweeney, who has been appointed to lead the operation.
A plan is in place for the long-awaited excavation of the burial site, with digging set to begin next year.
Mr MacSweeney will oversee the recovery of remains in an area where there are no burial records for 796 children.
Mr Mac Sweeney, who has previously worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross, told The Pat Kenny Show he sees parallels with Tuam.
"The one wound of war, the one wound of conflict, that actually gets worse over time rather than better is a missing person," he said.
"There is this uncertainty, people don't know what has happened and there's always this suspicion of 'Maybe this person is alive or is elsewhere'.
"Dealing with the uncertainty is something that is very, very beneficial.
"I think there's a certain parallel between what I was doing in conflict and post-conflict situations and what will happen in Tuam".
Mr Mac Sweeney has said forensics will be "absolutely key."
"My mandate is to recover the remains from the site, and then there's a forensic examination of the remains, and then we seek to identify - insofar as possible - to individualise the remains.
"To make findings as to causes and circumstances of death, and then identified remains are returned to families for burial.
"Unidentified remains will be memorialised in a way that will be decided by the families and by the survivors".
'It depends what we find'
Mr Mac Sweeney said the timeframe depends on what is found.
"In about six months I will have a better idea of a timeframe," he said.
"I will hopefully have proceeded on or made progress on the start-up phase.
"It really depends on what we find.
"If we talk about an identification programme: if a very small number of close family members come forward, then the identification programme is necessarily very small.
"If a huge number come forward then it's very big, so that's a time factor.
"When we recover the remains how many will we recover? Will DNA be actually recoverable from these bones?
"If DNA is recoverable and we have a lot of relatives, it will take a long time.
"If DNA is not recoverable, and we have very few relatives, it will be a very short identification".
'These are people's loved ones'
Mr Mac Sweeney said he is now looking to build a team to take on the excavation effort.
"At the moment it is me, and I will hopefully appoint a head of forensics very soon," he said.
"I need to gather administrative staff, because I have a budget of €12.5 million from the State and I'm responsible to the Oireachtas.
"I'm really at the very start of putting together all of these different thing".
Mr Mac Sweeney said he is aware of the sensitivity of the site.
"We are talking about the loved ones of people who are alive today," he said.
"The discussion becomes very quickly a forensic conversation about bones and things like that.
"But these are people's loved ones, and I think we need to be cognisant of that," he added.
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