THE family of the two young girls sexually assaulted in Co Westmeath at the weekend have thanked the gardai and people of Athlone for their support.
The statement was issued this morning by the families through the Athlone-based Westmeath Independent.
The families said: “We would like to express our heartfelt appreciation of An Garda Síochána for their support and tireless efforts at this difficult time.
“Their compassion and professionalism has been a source of great comfort for us and, more importantly for our precious little daughters.
“The other professional care providers have also helped us to begin to find our way through this challenging period.
“Finally, we would also like to recognise the kindness and practical support that we have received from the people of Athlone.
“The level of public empathy and practical assistance has been immense and again it has been a source of comfort to us all at this most difficult time.”
A homeless man has been charged with the rape of the two children and has been placed under protection in prison.
The 30-year-old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, will remain under protection until he appears before the courts again on Friday.
He appeared before Longford District Court yesterday, where he was charged with four counts of rape against a nine-year-old girl and a six-year-old girl – having allegedly committed two offences against each of the children.
Judge Seamus Hughes called for "all necessary protections" for the defendant while in custody, adding "I know it's an unusual thing to state but we're all living in the real world".
The judge also acceded to a request from the defence that the accused be kept on suicide watch. He also stated that the defendant should receive any appropriate medical attention, referencing "some marks" on his face.
The accused man, who is originally from Ballinasloe, was brought in to the courthouse just before 9am yesterday in a white van flanked by the garda armed support unit. He was escorted into the courtroom at 10.36am where he appeared before Judge Hughes.
By Eoghan MacConnell