The Garda Commissioner has said there are allegations within the report of the Mother and Baby Home Commission that suggest there was serious criminality engaged in.

Drew Harris told a meeting of the Policing Authority that allegations such as rape, incest and reports of children as young as 12 being pregnant are issues that could be pursued by gardaí that could have criminal justice outcomes.

Gardaí today appealed to anyone who was the victim of a criminal act in a mother-and-baby home to contact them.

However, they have warned that there will be limitations to the actions that can be taken in some cases due to the passage of time.

An Garda Síochána said a dedicated team reviewed the report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, but said there is insufficient detail in the report to commence an investigation at this moment.

Because the report is anonymised, any "proper investigation" would not be possible without the identification of individual parties affected by specific occurrences.

They are asking anyone who feels they were a victim of crime relating to a pregnancy or abuse involving their stay at a mother-and-baby home to come forward.

They have also appealed to anyone who has information that could assist an investigation into a criminal act at one of these institutions to report it.

An Garda Síochána said it is fully aware of the profound impact that mother-and-baby homes had on the lives of those who were in them, and of the wider public's concern about how these homes operated.

It said while it is their intention to deal effectively with all complaints and information received, there will be limitations to the action they can take due to issues such as the loss of evidence over time or the deaths of suspects or witnesses.

It said where this is the case, gardaí will "diligently" explain such limitations to complainants.

Dr Maeve O'Rourke, lecturer in the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, welcomed the garda appeal, but said criminal cases could not be pursued unless victims are given access to documents about the homes at which they were resident.

"This is definitely a welcome announcement, but what needs to happen now is the Minister for Children, the Adoption Authority of Ireland and all other data controllers have to open their archives to the people concerned", Dr O'Rourke said.

"How do you complain to the guards about something that you don't have information about?

"The other thing that needs to happen immediately is that the Garda Commissioner should issue public guidance explaining to people what the relevant criminal offences are at the time."

Gardaí say anyone who contacts them about the issue will receive what they describe as "personal contact" within 48 hours and will be dealt with in a sensitive manner.

The Garda Commissioner said the report was "harrowing and disturbing" but because the report was anonymised it was not possible to determine if a crime was committed in accordance with laws of the time.

He warned that the passage of time may be an issue as the report spans 98 years.

"There are various hurdles that we will have to cross in terms of just what the criminal law was at that particular time. Persons of interest, even suspects may have died.

"The victims, witnesses, may have died as well, and also then records may no longer be in existence.

"So, this is difficult a scenario and decades have passed in terms of some of the events, but at the same time, there may still be those who are alive, who suffered criminality, and we would say to them, please come forward and make a complaint or approaches us and at least let us speak to you."

Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll also told the virtual meeting of the Policing Authority that there have already been a number of requests for contacts to the dedicated email address that had been established for these reports.

He said Garda Protective Services Bureau have specialists around the country to deal with vulnerable victims.

He also said gardaí are working with Tusla on a joint strategy to deal with any reports they receive.

Gardaí have established a dedicated email address for these reports - MotherandBabyHomes@garda.ie

People can also contact the Garda Sexual Abuse Reporting line at any time on 1800 555 222, or contact their local Garda Station.