Irish Senator David Norris has revealed that he decided to stand for the presidency after a Facebook group urged him to.

Mr Norris, 66, is an independent senator known for his campaigning on gay rights. Two recent polls have put him at the front of the race to succeed current president Mary MacAleese next autumn.

He told the Guardian he decided to stand after discovering the Facebook group, which now has more than 3,000 members.

Mr Norris said: “One of the Irish Sunday newspapers rang me up and said, ‘Do you know that nearly 1,000 people have signed on Facebook calling for you to stand for the presidency?’ It was Facebook which started all this, absolutely.”

A former academic, he is an expert on the author James Joyce and worked for 16 years to overturn Ireland’s ban on homosexuality.

He said that if he were elected president, he would use the ensuing media attention to “sell Ireland”.

He said: “Anybody else elected as president of Ireland I don’t think is going to get the same kind of sensational news coverage. And I think that’s splendid, because if I went to Washington as president every single news channel will be there hungry for a story.

“I have been around long enough to deal with that story with dignity and then move on to talk about Ireland, to sell our country.”

Mr Norris added that he was not fearful of media attention on his private life, saying: “I have lived a decent, respectable life, and there has been no scandal.”