A Web site that helps people have affairs is to launch in Ireland with a major marketing campaign later this year, IrishCentral can reveal.

The site, Ashley Madison, has been in operation in North America since 2001, and its Canadian founder, Noel Biderman, told IrishCentral in an exclusive interview that membership has gone up from one million to 3.6 million in the past 12 months – in part thanks to the recession.

The site works by matching people up who both want to have affairs and who live in the same locality. Users can search for other likeminded people in their area.

 And users who sign up to the “Affair Guarantee” membership program and who don’t find an affair after three months can get their money back.

Biderman said that the site has already had a “soft launch” in Ireland – meaning that it can be used in Ireland. He says that it currently has around 5400 Irish members, with no advertising or marketing there.

He said that his company is currently carrying out market research in Ireland, and will launch a major advertising campaign later this year, spending “millions of euro.”

 “We have a manager for our international operations coming on board so you’ll be seeing us marketing in Ireland aggressively by late 2009,” Biderman said.

“We‘ll be letting people in Ireland know about Ashley Madison’s existence. Right now, what you get when you choose our service in Ireland is the same as what you get in Canada. Once we start marketing seriously in Ireland, we will start tailoring the site specifically for that market.”

He believes that Ireland “has all the makings for being a very positive market place for Ashley Madison.”

“Ireland has lower divorce rates compared to the U.S., meaning people stay in their marriages more often than they do in the US, which benefits our business,” Biderman said.

“There’s an ocean out there, because men are men, and it’s in their DNA to not want to be monogamous. So they might be staying in their marriages and they might be looking for cathartic outlets.”

Biderman said that the fact that Ireland has traditionally been a conservative Catholic country will also benefit his business.

“The more you suppress human nature, the more likely it is to manifest itself. My business may not be all that successful in France – they don’t need me. It’s more socially accepted there that men have mistresses. It’s part of their culture. But in Ireland it’s not accepted,” he said.

He also said that Ashley Madison provides a healthy alternative to work affairs and to prostitution.

“Men who do have affairs tend to have them at work – that’s what the research says – and that’s really unhealthy from a risk opportunity point of view. You could lose your job.

“Irish men and women are going to have affairs – but they shouldn’t do it in the workplace. We aren’t going to invent infidelity but we have a chance to cannibalize infidelity and say, ‘Hey, that’s really risky. Don’t have work affairs, and going to a prostitute is risky behavior – it’s dangerous, it’s against the law, there’s a chance you can get a STD. Go to a community of people where everyone has the same expectations and no one is going to rat you out.’”

Biderman argued that the severe Irish recession could provide rich pickings for his site.

“In times of financial stress, people turn to outlets that make them feel better. Some people turn to alcohol. But for some people the best bang they can get for their buck is to have an affair. Infidelity rates tend to go up in tough economic times.”

 “The other factor is that the majority of marital discord revolves around economic issues – that’s where 70 percent of marital problems stem from. It’s really hard when you are at odds with your partner to turn on the intimacy dial, when you are fighting over where the next dollar is going to come from.

“You tend to flip over and go to sleep. So come Monday morning, you are not only frustrated with your life, you are also sexually frustrated - and Ashley Madison seems like a very attractive alternative.”

Earlier this week, Accord, a Catholic marriage counseling agency in Ireland, said that it had recorded a 40 per cent increase in couples seeking its services because of financial problems in the past two years.

However, John Farrelly, the director of counseling at the agency, told IrishCentral that he was not concerned withAshley Madison's expansion into Ireland.

"I am fairly sure that the people of Ireland understand that Mr. Biderman has no interest in their marriage or family but purely in money,' Farrelly said.

"Money is scarce at this time and most people are concentrating on putting food on the table as opposed to in Mr. Bidermans pocket."

Predictably, Ashley Madison has attracted considerable controversy in the U.S., where it has been featured on “Ellen”, “Dr. Phil”, and “Good Morning America.” Brent Bozell, the president of a conservative monitoring group called Media Research Center, describing it as “Home Wreckers Inc.”

Biderman expects – and hopes for – the same degree of controversy in Ireland.

“Once we start our marketing in Ireland, some of the press will be livid about this, which will be good for us. We aren’t shy when it comes to controversy, which we thrive on.

“No one is going to give me some humanitarian award anytime soon. You can almost picture the Irish couple at home seeing the news report about us, with the woman saying, ‘That’s terrible,’ and the man saying ‘Yes, that’s terrible” while at the same time trying to remember the URL for the site and thinking, ‘How do I sign up?’”

He also defended his site against accusations that it profits from human misery, and facilitates the destruction of families, arguing instead that his site can be good for families.

 “I don’t believe that our service will create home wrecking. I think it’s the opposite. What we create are a community of adults, and we are saying, ‘Listen, we know that what you are going through right now is really challenging. And we know that you are not prepared to leave your relationship. You have financial ties to your family and you love your family.’  We are saying that someone on the side may make you a better partner, and more focused at work.

“A thirsty man will drink, a starving man will eat and people will seek physical intimacy if they are not getting it.”

Biderman described himself as a “happily married man” of eight years, with two children, and said that he is monogamous. He said that he would be devastated if he found that his wife was using Ashley Madison  – but that he wouldn’t blame the site.

“I probably wouldn’t blame the guy she was with or even her,” he said. “At the end of the day, I would take a long look at a mirror and say, ‘How did I not understand my wife’s needs, how was I in the relationship?’ I certainly wouldn’t be blaming an inanimate object. That would be ridiculous.”