Senator John McCain addressed over 1,500 people at the Irish Presidential Forum in Scranton, Pennsylvania on Monday, September 22, where the GOP presidential nominee spoke at length about the undocumented Irish living in the U.S. and his support for a comprehensive immigration reform package.
McCain, promised his largely Irish American audience - several of whom told the Irish Voice they don't agree with McCain's policy on immigration - that he will address the issue if elected.
"I want to assure you we will enact comprehensive immigration reform so we can put people -- after they have to do certain things obviously - on a path to citizenship in this country as part of an overall immigration reform policy," McCain said.
McCain, who consistently stays clear of the immigration issue while on the campaign trail, said, "There are 50,000 Irish men and women in this country illegally at this time who are hard working people and who want to become citizens."
McCain said his work on a comprehensive immigration reform package with Senator Edward Kennedy didn't make him "the most popular member" of his party.
"I was not elected Miss Congeniality again last year in the United States Senate," he smiled. "I sometimes had to take votes that were not popular. Senator Kennedy took votes that were not popular."
Throwing a dig at the opposition, he said, "Senator Obama took a hike."
McCain, the first Republican to address the Irish Presidential Form since its inception in 1984, said Obama supported a proposal to eliminate a temporary worker program.
"Why?" asked McCain. "Because union bosses told him to," he said, adding that his own support of immigration reform nearly cost him his party's nomination in the election.
"Senator Obama has never stood up to his party," he said.
McCain, who told the audience he tries to get to Ireland as often as possible, said, "When immigrants came to his country there was a backlash but they served in our military, they built our economy, they built our railroads, they built our infrastructure."
He continued, "There is a lady that stands in New York harbor with her lamp and she says, send me your tired and your hungry masses. That's what America is all about."
If elected president, McCain said he would continue America's leadership role in the Northern Ireland peace process, including implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. To demonstrate this commitment he said, "I will continue the practice, begun by President Clinton, of appointing a U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland. I know Senator Obama has questioned whether that appointment is needed. I would urge him to reconsider."
He added, "The people of Northern Ireland want the same things that we Americans want - the opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their children. It is up to leaders of both countries to create the conditions that will let them do so."
McCain, who briefly spoke about the troubled economy in the U.S., said it was to the Irish the U.S. should look towards on a couple of things.
"We could learn from the Irish," he said referring to low taxes in Ireland. "A commitment to low business taxes and free trade has made it the home of choice for businesses from around Europe and the world, and created a source of well-paid jobs for talented people," said McCain, adding that if elected president his agenda will include increasing trade between the U.S. and Ireland, along with "successfully completing recent discussions on visas for the benefit of all our citizens."
Referring to the success of the peace process in Northern Ireland as "truly inspirational," he added, "Many of those who saw decades of fighting in that proud and beautiful land thought that the day might never come when talking took the place of tanks, and ballots the place of bullets. But that day has dawned in Northern Ireland and we are all - Irish and American alike - better off for it."
He also said that hard work still remains. "As you know, there are still big problems about the police and the administration of justice. We know that that's the last hurdle, though, really the last hurdle," he said, promising to do everything he can to get it done.
"It is an honor for the U.S. to be seen as an honest broker by both parties to the Good Friday Agreement."
McCain, who opened his remarks with an Irish joke, finished his time at the Scranton Cultural Center by taking four questions from the audience. None were related to Irish issues.