Businessman Gavin Duffy’s bid to become president was barely hours old when it was mired in controversy over his involvement in hunting.
Animal rights campaigners accused him of living in a “timewarp” and said anyone who supported blood sports and hunting had no business seeking the highest office in the land.
While Mr Duffy is well known for his role in the Dragons' Den television series, he is also a member of the Louth Hunt and a former chairman of the Hunting Association of Ireland.
"I defended the Ward Union Hunt, which is not a blood sport. The Ward Union Hunt holds the original, indigenous species of Irish red deer," he said, when asked on RTÉ's Morning Ireland if he was an advocate of blood sports.
“The Green Party wanted to ban it and, if they had, there was no plan for what we were going to do with the main herd of original Irish red deer in the country. The deer is never killed. Now some three died accidentally over 30 years or 20-odd years.
“But that’s something that I stand over. I was president of the Hunting Association. There are approximately 700,000 people around the country who are involved in rural pursuits – hunting, shooting, fishing – who are involved in farming, etc and they know me. They know my track record and I think they will be supporting me.”
The founder of the Animal Rights Action Network John Carmody accused Mr Duffy of "living in a timewarp".
He said he was not surprised by Mr Duffy’s claims that he represented people interested in “rural pursuits” but he dismissed it as an inaccurate portrayal of Irish country life.
“We hear an awful lot from people who live in the countryside and they tell us they are horrified by hunting in all its guises. And more and more people are moving away from it.”
Mr Carmody suggested Mr Duffy’s view of hunting would “have a big impact on his campaign when it kicks off”.
He said there would be anti-hunting campaigners “wherever he shows up, all drawing attention to his interest in blood sports and in hunting. This is a very serious thing and it is important that the animal rights movement keeps it front and centre in the campaign of somebody seeking election to the highest office in the land”.
Mr Duffy is seeking a nomination from four local authorities and has accepted an invitation to speak at Waterford City and County Council on Tuesday at 4pm. A number of others have expressed an interest in running for the presidency including Independent Senators Pádraig Ó Céidigh and Joan Freeman, and the artist Kevin Sharkey.