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Public Health, Ethics and Law Research Network (PHELN)

The aim of the Public Health, Ethics and Law Research Network (PHELN) is to promote cross-disciplinary research in public health, ethics and law in the UK and Ireland. It involves an academic collaboration between colleagues based at the University of Edinburgh, University College Cork and Queen’s University Belfast, as well as liaison with the Public Health Ethics Special Interest Group, UK Faculty of Public Health. 


About the project

PHELN involves the running of a series of cross-disciplinary webinars and workshops to examine the relationship between public health, ethics and law, focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic by way of case study. Key project objectives include the development of academic-stakeholder collaborations, and the establishment of a sustainable public health, ethics and law research network in the UK and Ireland.

Key aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic which will be examined during the course of the project include:

  • the values informing policy and law-making during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • ethical and legal issues arising in the context of the COVID-19 vaccination programme
  • the nature and impact of the public-private provision in managing aspects of the pandemic
  • human rights concerns with respect to vulnerable groups adversely impacted by the pandemic

The planned project activities will also facilitate critical reflection regarding the feasibility of the ‘two-island’ approach to managing the pandemic. This is in addition to exploring how we should understand the concept and reality of borders in policy, legal and geographical terms in responding to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The project is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/V009222/1) and the Irish Research Council (IRC/V009222/1). The support of the ESRC and the IRC is gratefully acknowledged.

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Principal Investigators

Professor Anne-Maree Farrell
Chair of Medical Jurisprudence, Edinburgh Law School
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Professor Mary Donnelly
Professor Law, University College Cork
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Professor Deirdre Madden
Professor of Law, University College Cork
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Professor Thérèse Murphy
Professor of Law, Queen’s University Belfast
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Dr Clayton Ó Néill
Lecturer in Law, Queen’s University Belfast
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Dr Mary Tumelty
Lecturer in Law, University College Cork
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COVID-19 Vaccination in the UK and Ireland: Ethics in Practice

On 16 June 2021, the Public Health Ethics and Law Research Network (PHELN) hosted a public webinar event and an online workshop, examining COVID-19 Vaccination Programmes in the UK and Ireland.

The public webinar event involved an interactive discussion between Ms Patricia Donnelly, Head of the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme, Northern Ireland; Dr Siobhán Ní Bhriain, Member of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), Ireland; and Professor David Archard, Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast.

All three speakers discussed the ethical, policy and practical issues at stake in implementing COVID-19 vaccination programmes, focused on the following questions:

  • What values have, or should have, informed the COVID-19 vaccination programme?
  • How did we go about, or how should we have gone about, determining priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination?
  • What are some of the practical issues faced when implementing this type of vaccination programme?

An edited webinar presentation can be accessed on

Following the webinar, an online workshop was held which brought together a range of academics, public health professionals and policy-makers to reflect on the issues raised in the webinar.

A Working Paper was also prepared for attendees at the workshop, which can be accessed on the Project website: C O’Néill, ME Tumelty, M Donnelly, AM Farrell, R Frowde and L Pentony, COVID-19 Vaccination in the UK and Ireland: Ethics in Practice, PHELN Working Paper No. 1, June 2021.

COVID-19 Vaccination in the UK and Ireland: Ethics in Practice 
Clayton Ó Néill, Mary-Elizabeth Tumelty, Mary Donnelly, Anne-Maree Farrell, Rhiannon Frowde and Linda Pentony - PHELN Workshop Paper No. 1, June 2021