Thank you for the honor of appearing with you here today. The Irish-American Presidential Forum has been held since 1984, and since its inception there has been a lack of Republicans. And while my affection for Democrats and independents is deep and wide, I am proud to be the first Republican to appear before the Forum.
You are very kind to invite someone with a name like McCain, a Scots-Irish descendent whose family came to the New World some generations ago. I hope you won't hold it against us - I do try to get back to the island as often as possible.
I'd like to talk about some issues that are of particular concern to Irish-Americans, but before I do, I'd like to take a couple minutes to talk about an issue that is concerning to us all, and that is the economic crisis that we have all been following since last week.
On Friday, I laid out my plan for addressing this crisis. At its heart, my plan is about keeping people in their homes and safeguarding the life savings of all Americans by protecting our financial system and capital markets. These are my priorities.
Senator Obama has declined to put forth a plan of his own. At a time of crisis, when leadership is needed, Senator Obama has simply not provided it.
And the truth is that we don't have time to wait for Senator Obama's input for our nation to act. I think it is clear that Congress must act and must act quickly. I laid out my plan and my priorities last Friday. I spoke to Secretary Paulson over the weekend, and I've been looking at the plan the administration has put forth. I urge Congress to study this proposal carefully as they consider the remedy for this crisis.
As for me, I am greatly concerned that the plan gives a single individual the unprecedented power to spend $1 trillion - trillion - dollars without any meaningful accountability. Never before in the history of our nation has so much power and money been concentrated in the hands of one person. This arrangement makes me deeply uncomfortable. When we are talking about a trillion dollars of taxpayer money "trust me" just isn't good enough.
We will not solve a problem caused by poor oversight with a plan that has no oversight. Part of the reason we are facing this crisis is an antiquated regulatory system of uncoordinated agencies that haven't been doing the job.
I believe we need a high level oversight board to impose accountability and establish concrete criteria for who gets help and who does not. They must ensure that throughout this crisis, the government is a careful steward of the taxpayer's dollars. The oversight board should be bipartisan and have qualified citizens who have no agenda but the protection of taxpayers and the financial markets. People like: Warren Buffet, who supports my opponent, Governor Romney, who supports me, or Mayor Bloomberg, an independent.
The firms we help need accountability too. We cannot have taxpayers footing the bill for bloated golden parachutes like we see in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, where the top executives are asking for $2.5 billion in bonuses after they ran the company into the ground. The senior executives of any firm that is bailed out by treasury should not be making more than the highest paid government official.
I would also urge transparency throughout this process. The American people have the right to know which firms will be helped, what that selection will be based on and how much that help will cost. The details of the process and the transaction itself should all be made available online for public scrutiny.
As Congress examines this package, I would encourage all members to set aside the pressures of Washington and Wall Street. As we determine what to do, we need to put our country first and focus on what is best for Main Street. We must help keep people in their home. We must protect American's savings. And we must keep students with loans in school.
What we need in any reform is accountability for Wall Street, accountability for government, and a commitment to protecting peoples' homes and life savings and restoring our financial markets.
Times are tough for our economy, and I expect more tough economic news before the election. My commitment to the American people is to fix the Wall Street mess, reform Washington, and most importantly, enact a pro-growth agenda to create jobs for Americans and get this country back on track.
There are a couple of things that we could learn from the Irish in that regard. 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.
I believe that both those policies are important examples, and if I am elected president, my agenda will include increasing trade between the United States and Ireland, along with successfully completing recent discussions on visas for the benefit of all our citizens.
Finally, let me say that if you look around the world today, it is easy to see problems and challenges almost everywhere. Our country is in the midst of two wars; our economy is in turmoil; a number of regions around the globe are unstable or unfriendly.
But events in other places are inspirational, and that is certainly true of Northern Ireland. 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.
When in May of last year the world saw images of a devolved government in Belfast, restored under the stewardship of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, it captured a political courage the previous generation could have scarcely imagined.
There remains hard work ahead. It is an honor for the United States to be trusted as an honest broker by both parties to the Good Friday agreement, and if I am elected President, I will continue America's leadership role. I am committed, as I know the American people are committed, to furthering the bonds of cooperation that have been forged in Northern Ireland's peace process. As a demonstration of that commitment, 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.
If I am elected president, I assure you that there will be no weakening in America's commitment to peace in Northern Ireland. I'll maintain the special U.S. envoy for Northern Ireland, and I will welcome peacemakers to the White House.
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.