Maynooth University academic Dr Aisling McMahon has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting grant worth €1.5 million to undertake a five-year research project examining the bioethical implications posed by patents over technologies related to the human body.
Dr McMahon, an Associate Professor in the School of Law and Criminology, Maynooth University, will lead a team of four researchers on the project entitled ‘PatentsInHumans’ which will investigate the bioethical implications of patents over technologies which relate to the human body, such as: medicines, human genes, elements of diagnostic tests, prosthetic limbs, and human enhancement technologies for instance, potential future uses of brain implant technologies.
Patents allow rightsholders to control how patented technologies are accessed and by whom. Therefore, patents granted over technologies related to the human body and how they are licensed can have significant implications for how we treat, use and modify our human bodies. ‘PatentsInHumans’ focuses on understanding these bioethical implications and reconceptualising how they are incorporated within European patent decision-making.
This is the second ERC grant to be awarded to members of the School of Law and Criminology over the past two years and follows a €2million ERC Consolidator grant awarded to Professor Delia Ferri in 2019 for her project ‘DANCING’.
Upon receiving this award, Dr McMahon said: “I am delighted and honoured to be awarded this European Research Council grant, it will allow me to develop a comprehensive and much-needed analysis of the bioethical implications posed by patents over technologies related to the human body.
“Under the current European patent system, the human body itself is not patentable. However, many technologies that relate to the human body, such as medicines, isolated human genes, and medical devices are patentable. Given the blurring between the human body and patentable technologies, such patents can pose significant bioethical implications affecting how we treat, use, and modify our bodies. We see this in many contexts including COVID-19. Yet such bioethical implications are often marginalised within patent decision-making.
“This project aims to understand and bridge the disconnect between bioethics and patent law and ultimately, to reimagine European patent decision-making to incorporate bioethical considerations within it.”
Dr McMahon also paid tribute to the research environment in Maynooth University: “I would like to acknowledge the strong research culture and environment provided by the School of Law and Criminology, led by Head of School Professor Michael Doherty, and Maynooth University more generally in encouraging and supporting this application. I am also very grateful for the incredible support and advice provided by our fantastic Research Development Office throughout the application process.”
Professor Eeva Leinonen, President of Maynooth University commended Dr McMahon saying: “On behalf of Maynooth University, I would like to congratulate Dr McMahon on achieving this grant. Maynooth is internationally renowned for its humanities and social science work, and this project is indicative of the ethos and expertise at the University. Over the past twelve months, the university has been awarded grants across multiple disciplines, and this achievement continues our success.”
ERC Starting Grants are designed to support excellent academics and researchers to help them establish their own independent research team or programme. The highly prestigious ERC award is viewed as the gold standard for research funding in Europe. Dr McMahon is one of an elite group of recipients who have been highlighted for their outstanding research. ‘PatentsInHumans’ is a ground-breaking project it will formulate new pathways to bring bioethics into European patent decision-making with timely and important conceptual and policy implications.
Research Centre for Criminology. Lead by Dr Lynsey Black
Research Centre for European Law. Lead by Prof Tobias Lock
Research Centre for International Justice. Lead by Dr Noelle Higgins
Research Centre for Technology Law & Policy. Lead by Dr David Mangan
Technology Law & Policy Centre
This Centre provides a forum for the development and promotion of existing research and teaching in the field of Law and Technology (broadly conceived) at the School of Law & Criminology, Maynooth University locally, nationally, and internationally. Maynooth is fortunate to have a number of active researchers and teachers in this area of growing importance. The Centre enhances these activities by: establishing a central location for the promotion of this work and its impact; augmenting the case for successful competition in national and international funding bids within the Centre’s scope; providing a means through which Centre members may co-operate/partner with European and global research centres in the same area; enhance the profile of Maynooth’s School of Law & Criminology for post-graduate recruitment; and foster collaborated outreach and engagement (including seminars and conferences) on matters of crucial societal importance related to the field of Law & Technology.
Context and Rationale
Researchers in the Technology Law & Policy Centre study the role of technology in contemporary society, how technology challenges the orthodox legal framework (facilitated by continuously evolving technological innovations) and addresses how law and policy may be adapted to suit contemporary needs. Centre members’ research takes technology as a central focus of their work, and study technology through a legal and policy lens in a way that benefits society. Evidence of the impact of Centre members on the field of Law and Technology includes: multiple monographs, textbooks, and edited collections in the field, publications in leading Law and Technology journals, representation on Government councils as well as national and international working groups grappling with pressing Law and Technology issues, success in attracting funding supporting Law and Technology projects, and speaking invitations at Oireachtas committees.
The Centre offers research-led teaching on matters related to Law and Technology that brings students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels into close contact with the legal issues presented by innovations in technology. Several of our Ph.D students are actively working on projects exploring Law and Technology issues ranging from Artificial Intelligence, online disinformation, and the sharing of indecent images without consent. Most recently the Law MA Placement module has linked up to Trilateral Research, a multidisciplinary consulting and technology development company, to take on students studying data, privacy, and surveillance. Engagement with wider society extends beyond our members’ research and policy efforts to our teaching offerings as demonstrated by new placements established for postgraduate students with partners such as Privacy Engine and the AI developer, Altada. At undergraduate level, the Law and Technology module has established partnerships with large law firms.
The Centre’s Irish locale means that it is based in the European Union (and often European, Middle East, and Africa) home for the majority of the world’s largest technology companies. This has previously facilitated member engagement with both technology and regulatory leaders. As such, it is a strategic priority for the Centre’s members to expand its research, teaching, and leadership in Law & Technology, including advancing understanding of the internet as well as automation and their impacts in society. The Centre is also involved in interdisciplinary collaborations with other departments, universities, and organisations.
Current Course Offerings
Law & Technology LW121
New Perspectives on Law and Technology LW222
An Introduction to Cyber/Crime & Technology LW226
Advanced Perspectives on Law and Technology LW321
Media Law LW360
Law and Biotechnology LW426
Intellectual Property Law LW457
Labour Law and the Digital Economy LW495
Contemporary Issues in Medicine and Law LW469
Intellectual Property and Disruptive Technologies LW499
Patents, Health and Biotechnology LW610
Bioethics, Health and Human Rights: Contemporary Issues LW668
Information Privacy Law LW647
Information Technology Law LW685
Introduction to Surveillance Studies LW689
There are also postgraduate placement and dissertation opportunities.
The Centre is home to researchers and instructors specialising in the legal and policy aspects of information technology, intellectual property, and technological innovations as found in multifarious settings, including the workplace, the home, in healthcare, in business, in citizen-state interactions, and in public. This work touches on myriad facets of Law & Technology including: artificial intelligence, automation/robotics, ‘big data’, biotechnology, cybersecurity, data protection, digital commerce and virtual currencies, digital rights, intellectual property, mobile surveillance technologies, emerging health technologies, as well as the regulation, governance, and dispute resolution of online telecommunications, privacy
Centre members (alphabetically) are:
Dr. Ciara Bracken-Roche
Dr. David Cowan
Dr. David Doyle
Dr. Neil Maddox
Dr. David Mangan
Professor Aisling McMahon
Dr. Maria Murphy
Dr. Marian Velasco Rivera
Below are some of the projects on which members are currently working. These examples are divided by broad topic areas, and are not an exhaustive list of members’ current work.
Teaching Law and Technology for Law Students
Dr. Ciara Bracken-Roche has introduced three new technology focused modules in the past year (LW226, LW315, LW689). Additional practical applications of this academic study are offered through a placement with Trilateral Research (LW693).
Dr. David Cowan has launched courses in Law and Technology (LW121, LW222, LW321). As noted in the Law Society’s Gazette, These are the first course offerings that are compulsory and integrated courses for an LLB in Ireland.
Dr. Aisling McMahon established a research placement with Access to Medicines Ireland which allows students to examine the practical and policy impacts of patents on access to healthcare building on skills gained under (LW610).
Dr. Murphy has set up a placement for Information Technology Law students with Altada.
Intellectual Property Rights & COVID-19
A key strand of Dr Aisling McMahon’s current work examines the implications of intellectual property rights for access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. Recently, Dr McMahon co-authored a paper with Dr Siva Thambisetty (LSE), Dr Hyo Yoon Kang (Kent), Dr Luke McDonagh (LSE) and Prof Graham Dutfield (Leeds) building the case for a temporary TRIPS waiver to suspend certain intellectual property rights to encourage broader access to COVID-19 vaccines and other health technologies to increase global equitable access to vaccines. This paper has been widely cited internationally including by a recent Nature editorial. Together with these co-authors, they led an academic open letter in favour of the TRIPS waiver which has been signed by over 180 leading intellectual property scholars worldwide.
Dr. David Doyle has been awarded an Irish Research Council Coalesce Award for this project. It investigates the legal ambiguities associated with the processes and outcomes of cryobanking and de-extinction. It, additionally, explores the ‘relational values’ underpinning these processes, especially how human preferences and cultural iconicity influence which species are chosen for de-extinction.
Patents & Human Genome Editing
Dr Aisling McMahon currently sits on a high level international expert working group examining the role of patents and human genome editing technologies, led and chaired by Prof Duncan Matthews (Queen Mary University). This working group considers the social, regulatory and legal issues arising from the application of genome editing and re-thinks policy approaches. The group was invited to deliver a webinar on these issues to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing in 2020, and their contribution is cited by the Advisory Committee’s recently published Recommendations on Human Genome Editing. The group published a whitepaper on these issues in July 2021.
Patents in Humans
Professor Aisling McMahon has been awarded a European Research Council grant for this project. She will lead a team of four researchers to investigate the bioethical implications of patents over technologies which relate to the human body, such as: medicines, human genes, elements of diagnostic tests, prosthetic limbs, and human enhancement technologies for instance, potential future uses of brain implant technologies. Patents allow rightsholders to control how patented technologies are accessed and by whom. Therefore, patents granted over technologies related to the human body and how they are licensed can have significant implications for how we treat, use and modify our human bodies. ‘PatentsInHumans’ focuses on understanding these bioethical implications and reconceptualising how they are incorporated within European patent decision-making.
Fertility Preservation for Children with Cancer
Dr. Neil Maddox was awarded an Irish Research Council award to author a report on the legal and ethical challenges presented by new medical technology allowing preservation of fertility for pre-pubertal children facing cancer treatment. The report examines the unique issues faced by policymakers, ethicists and clinicians in seeking to formulate rules and guidelines that adequately properly regulate this area.
Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Values
Dr Maria Murphy is a founding Team Member of the Centre for AI and Digital Policy which aims to ‘bring together world leaders, innovators, advocates, and thinkers to promote established frameworks to explore emerging challenges in AI’. In 2020, Dr Murphy contributed to the report on ‘Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Values’. This was the first report of its kind, systemically ranking the national AI policies of 30 countries. The CAIDP prioritises policy engagement with governments worldwide and centres the public voice in AI policy making. In addition to this policy and engagement work, Dr Murphy is currently contributing to the development and design of the 2021 report on ‘Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Values’.
Artificial Intelligence Standards in Ireland
Dr Maria Murphy is a member of the National Standards Authority of Ireland Top Team on AI as well as its Legal Working Group. The NSAI Top Team on AI is designed to support the development and utilisation of AI in various arenas of society as part of Ireland’s National AI Strategy. Collaboration occurs both at the Working Group level of legal experts (including industry, academia, and regulatory experts) and at the Plenary Group level. Dr Murphy is contributing to the a final report of the Top Team on AI designed to develop a standards and assurance roadmap for AI in Ireland.
Media Representations of Data Protection during the Covid-19 Pandemic: Assessing the Portrayal of Data Protection Issues Alongside and in Opposition to Public Health Interests
With this project, Dr Maria Murphy seeks to assess how the media portrays the issue of data protection during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data protection challenges have been identified in many contexts – from the development of the COVID Tracker App, to the unplanned shift to working/studying from home, to the collection of personal information by private parties for the purposes of contact tracing. A key part of this project’s assessment of the media coverage is aided by systematic content analysis of articles published in major Irish newspapers. This project is particularly interested in whether data protection issues are presented as matters of fundamental rights. This research is supported by a BILETA Research Award and a MUSSI Small Grant.
Dr Maria Murphy is a Member of the National Advisory Council for Online Safety, a forum for non-governmental, industry, and academic stakeholders to identify emerging issues where government intervention might be needed and provide advice to Government on online safety issues. The Council was formed as part of the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-2019.
As a member of the Research and Policy Committee of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Dr Maria Murphy has worked closely with the ICCL in developing positions on issues of pressing public concern. Dr Murphy has previously collaborated on submissions related to Online Safety and is currently working with the ICCL in devising a response to the recent report of the Oireachtas Committee on the proposed OSMR Bill.
The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is under pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas. Led by Dr. Maria Murphy and Dr. David Mangan, this project seeks insights from users of online services who are outside of the collection of stakeholders who have been consulted thus far in the legislative process. Funded by a grant from the Society of Legal Scholars, the project will gather these perspectives in order to determine how they may differ from the perspectives of those currently dominating the debate and to represent those views by providing input into the shaping of the proposed legal infrastructure.
ResPecTMe – addressing precarity in paid and unpaid platform work
Dr. David Mangan is a member of ResPecTMe which is a project funded by the European Research Council with Professor Valeria Pulignano (KU Leuven) as the PI. The current work focuses on setting out how the results of interviews may be translated into recommendations for legal change. This effort takes into consideration the number of current proposals put forward by the European Commission in the area of platform work (including the proposed adequate minimum wage directive). Legal and policy recommendations are being drafted as part of the output from this project.
Police & Public Safety Use of Surveillance Technology
Dr. Ciara Bracken-Roche has worked with members of the Geography and Computer Science Departments in Maynooth to study the adoption of drones, LIDAR, and GIS mapping systems in response to covid19 and other emergency management contexts as part of a large SFI grant. Additionally, her own IRC-funded research focuses on the procurement and adoption of mobile surveillance technologies such as Automated License Plate Readers, Body Warn Cameras, and drones by An Gardai Siochana in Ireland.
Prof. Delia Ferri
is researching on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) within the European Union (EU) and its Member States. Currently, Prof. Ferri is Principal Investigator of the project Protecting the Right to Culture of Persons with Disabilities and Enhancing Cultural Diversity through European Union Law: Exploring New Paths (DANCING)
. DANCING explores the right of persons with disabilities to take part in cultural life as an essential aspect of enhancing cultural diversity in the EU, and aims to produce ground-breaking knowledge. By using a combination of legal, empirical and arts-based research, and adopting a participatory approach, DANCING pursues three complementary objectives, experiential, normative and theoretical respectively. The project is funded by the European Research Council (Grant agreement No. 864182). Prof. Ferri is also co-investigator in the H2020 project Rethinking Digital Copyright Law for a Culturally Diverse, Accessible, Creative Europe (ReCreating Europe)
, where she investigates access to digital cultural goods for people with disabilities, from an intersectional perspective. As member of the H2020 project SHAPES
, she focuses on regulatory frameworks to support independence and enhanced quality of life for older people with disabilities. On the whole, Prof. Ferri’s research falls within the broader realm of EU Law and Comparative Law.
Professor Doherty and Dr Mangan are currently working on a European Commission Project investigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on employment relations in the aviation industry. VIRAL is a two-year project, with 12 partners from six EU Member States. The project aims to identify measures to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on the air transport sector. A vital consideration for the VIRAL project involves mapping employment relations changes in the European air transport value chain, due to the impact of lockdowns, and mapping plans to re-invigorate the industry in the coming years.
Professor Doherty, Head of the School of Law and Criminology, is currently undertaking research on different ways of regulating new forms of employment emerging through technological advance, and through the increasingly differentiated forms of employment relationship that are observable. The digitalisation of the workplace leads to both completely new phenomena, and also traditional legal challenges present in novel forms. The research looks at changing conceptions of the employment relationship, relating to workers in the ‘gig economy’, but also workers ‘on the borderline’ of employee/self-employed status; the ‘false-self-employed’, and seeks to examine legislative, and other regulatory, strategies ensure the rights of such workers are secured.
Dr Amina Adanan is researching on the topic of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as customary international law. She is editing and contributing to the book, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at Seventy; A Review of Successes and Challenges, which will be published by Clarus Press in 2019. This book is also edited by Prof Michael Doherty, Dr Noelle Higgins and Dr David Doyle. In addition, Amina researches on the topic of universal criminal jurisdiction, and its historical development under international law. She is currently researching on the effectiveness of European prosecutions of international crimes committed in Syria, under universal jurisdiction.
Dr David Doyle is currently in the process of completing a co-authored book on capital punishment in post-independence Ireland. He was also recently awarded an Irish Research Council New Foundations Award to seed a new study on Human Trafficking in Ireland.
Dr Delia Ferri Dr Ferri’s research is currently focusing on how the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been implemented in the European Union and within selected EU Member States, and she is addressing how the rights of persons with disabilities are protected and promoted in Europe. Her research falls within the broader realm of European Union Law and Comparative Law.
Dr Brian Flanagan’s research centres on the prospects for an account of collective intention that coheres with our ordinary understanding of the notion.
Professor Claire Hamilton is currently writing up comparative research into counter-terrorism funded by the Irish Research Council New Horizons Research Project scheme (2015-2017). This will be published as a book, Contagion, Counter-terrorism and Criminology: Justice in the Shadow of Terror by Palgrave Press in 2019. Prof. Hamilton is also engaged on research into human rights and governmentality and is co-editing (with Prof. Randy K. Lippert, Windsor University, Canada) a special issue of Critical Criminology on this theme in March 2020.
Dr. Noelle Higgins is working on a project on the issue of cultural cleansing.
Dr Louise Kennefick is currently working on a project which examines the interrelationship between social deprivation and criminal law defences within an interdisciplinary context. She is also engaged in an extensive study seeking to capture an oral history of the Irish Probation Service from the perspective of its core stakeholders, spanning the 1960s to present-day, deriving from her membership of the European Co-operation in Science and Technology (COST) Action network on Offender Supervision.
Dr Neil Maddox is studying the interaction between informal norms, such as cooperation and altruism, and how they interact with positive law in collective action settings.
Dr. Ian Marder’s research currently focuses on two main areas. The first involves engaging with researchers, policymakers and practitioners across Europe to stimulate the implementation of the recent Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)8 concerning restorative justice in criminal matters. The second involves comparative research on sentencing and the impact of different types of sentencing guidelines. He is also writing up his recent study on the institutionalisation of restorative justice in policing.
Dr Clíodhna Murphy is currently working on research relating to access to labour rights for a number of different categories of domestic worker; and is also taking part in the Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments Project, writing the 'missing' feminist judgment in the Supreme Court decision in Lobe and Osayande v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  IESC 3.
Dr Maria Murphy’s research focuses on the intersections of law and technology and places particular emphasis on the appropriate role of law in ensuring sufficient protection of human rights while facilitating the adoption of technologies with broad societal benefit. She is also concerned with the importance of rights for the protection of democracy in the information age. The rights of most importance to her research thus far have been privacy, freedom of expression, and the protection of personal data. Key issues examined in her research include privacy by design, the role of human rights in developing workable standards, and the comprehension gap that can exist between different but connected fields – such as law and computer science – and those operating in different jurisdictions.
Dr John Reynolds is currently working on projects on: states of emergency in colonial and postcolonial legal contexts; Third World Approaches to international criminal law; the political economy of socio-economic rights.
Seth Barrett Tillman is working on a critique of the normative foundations of international law. He is also completing a paper on the scope of impeachment and disqualification under U.S. constitutional law.
Research Seminar Series
School of Law and Criminology Research Lecture Series
Wednesdays, 4pm-5pm (JHL1)
As well as the classes for your modules, the School will this year host a weekly lecture series in which staff will present their own current research. This is a chance for you to learn about aspects of law and criminology, and of legal and criminological research, that you might not otherwise encounter as part of your degree. It is also a chance to find out what your lecturers spend their time working on and thinking about. Some of these lectures might connect with things you are currently studying as part of your degree. Others might be relevant to compulsory or optional modules that you will have an opportunity to study later. And others will have no direct link to anything in your law or criminology degree, but instead serve to broaden your understanding of the kinds of questions that we ask as lawyers and criminologists, and the kinds of answers that we come up with. All students in the school are invited, and you are strongly encouraged to attend if you are able to do so.
Lectures will take place every Wednesday from 28 September to 7 December, except for reading week.
28 September “Does Ireland need a right to health after the Covid-19 Pandemic?” Dr Ollie Bartlett
5 October “Can Courts Solve Climate Change?” Dr Orla Kelleher
12 October “Law, History and Trauma Politics” Dr Sinead Ring
19 October “Ulterior motives: Protecting or Containing Refugees and Displaced Persons?” Dr Brid Ni Ghrainne
26 October “Why States Do Not Leave the European Human Rights Regime?”
Dr Hubert Smekal
9 November “Truer than True Crime” Dr Ian Marder
16 November “A Whistle-Stop Tour of Whistleblowing Law in Ireland”
Dr Lauren Kierans
23 November “The Trustworthy Terrorist: The role of trust in the psychology of terrorist involvement” Dr John Morrison
30 November “Regulating Warfare in Outer Space” Dr Noelle Higgins
7 December “Women, Murder and the Death Penalty in Ireland”
Dr Lynsey Black
The Routledge Handbook of Irish Criminology
The Routledge Handbook of Irish Criminology was published in 2015 and is available to purchase online
International Human Rights Law and 'Criminalization'
International Human Rights Law and 'Criminalization'
Japenese Yearbook of International Law Vol 58 (2015), 45-70
Dr Noelle Higgins, Professor Michael O'Flaherty.
Property Rights in the 'Fragmented' Human Body
Research by Dr Neil Maddox: Propert Rights Neil Maddox
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Reflections of the UDHR at 70
On 5 April 2018, staff and postgraduate students in Maynooth University gathered to share their reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as part of the events in the School of Law and Criminology to mark 70 years of this significant human rights instrument.
During the insightful event, participants shared their perspectives on the positive and the negative aspects of the UDHR on both a domestic and an international level. Two of the most common themes from the presentations were: (1) that the UDHR is a remarkable document, and (2) that its aspirational content leaves much room for progress.
This research bulletin provides a summary of the presentations on the day, with an emphasis on showcasing the contributions from postgraduate students in Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology.
Bulletin available here