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Tight security as Enda's Fine Gael homecoming opens with a warning

The Taoiseach announced that China will take Irish beef again as the Fine Gael national conference got under way in Mayo this evening.

ENDA KENNY HAS opened his party’s national conference in Mayo this evening with a warning that the economic recovery is still vulnerable to “threats and shocks”.

The Taoiseach kicked off the weekend conference on his home turf with a speech devoted largely to the progress the government has made in the agriculture sector.

He hailed the creation of employment in rural Ireland with the so-called ‘rural recovery’ the subject of this evening’s first and only debate session with most events taking place tomorrow.

B-UC8fAIAAAZ9kA Hugh O'Connell / Hugh O'Connell / /

He hailed the deal struck between Greece and its lenders to extend its bailout programme by another four months, saying it was “a relief to everybody”.

The Fine Gael leader also announced that the ban on Irish beef being imported to China is to be lifted in the coming weeks.

He said that renewed access for beef to ”the biggest individual market in the world” is a “fantastic breakthrough”.

Kenny said that while there has been progress the economic recovery remains “fragile and vulnerable to threats and shocks”.

The conference has opened amid tight security in the Castlebar venue with anti-water charges protesters expected at some point this weekend.

In his speech to delegates at the Royal Theatre tonight, Kenny said the government’s job is “far from over” until the conditions can be created for the return of emigrants – “sons and daughters” – who have left the country in recent years.

He paid tribute to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, highlighting the return of Irish beef to the American market in recent weeks as well as the Chinese beef deal.

“A great deal of credit goes to Minister Coveney and the Irish agriculture sector for achieving so much so quickly,” Kenny said.

Kenny claimed that 2015 will be the year of the rural recovery.

The lack of a recovery in parts of rural Ireland was noted by the Fianna Fáil TD for Longford-Westmeath, Robert Troy, who had this message for Fine Gael ministers travelling to the region today:

Opening the conference earlier this evening, local TD Michelle Mulherin noted it was the first time that Fine Gael had held its national conference in Mayo.

She paid a lengthy tribute to the county and Kenny, who she said delegates must ensure is the first leader to win the party a second term.

After a day of debate sessions on crime, agriculture, the 1916 centenary, the economy recovery, employment, education, and mental health, the Taoiseach will deliver a televised address tomorrow night to close the conference.

Follow @oconnellhugh and @TJ_Politics for coverage of the Fine Gael national conference in Castlebar this weekend. 

ANALYSIS: Not quite the homecoming king, but Enda is sure to get a warm reception in Mayo

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