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Research Ethics

Research Ethics Committee (REC)


The over-arching ethical principles for research carried out in the name of Trinity College are:

  • Respect for the individual subject or population
  • Beneficence and the absence of maleficence (research should have the maximum benefit with minimal harm
  • Justice (all research subjects should be treated fairly and equally).

Good Research Practice

All individuals involved in research have a role to play in facilitating and making sure that research is conducted ethically. The ethical conduct of research is a shared responsibility. Primary responsibility for the ethical conduct of research studies and for continued review during the lifetime of a project rests with the Principal Investigator (s) or Student Supervisor. Ethical duties and legal obligations may intersect but are not necessarily the same.

Ethical approval is required before any studies involving human subjects can commence. This requirement applies to studies to be undertaken by staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students. Studies which do not involve human subjects (for example, secondary analysis of anonymise databases or other desk based work) may be given a notification of exemption once the initial application is reviewed. Fieldwork cannot commence until such approval has been gained.

In the case of collaborative projects involving researchers from outside the School, ethical approval obtained from an external research ethics body may suffice – evidence of same must be submitted to the committee prior to the commencement of the study (see procedures below). In the absence of such external approval, approval must be obtained as per this document. Additional ethical approvals may be required if the project involves or is funded by an external body.

Please ensure that your study conforms to acceptable standards of anonymity preservation and data retention as directed by PI/Supervisor and outlined in the College code of practice. A study which requires either digital or photographic recordings of participants must include in the research ethics approval application a justification and documentation of the methods by which the statutory provisions and research practice guidelines will be met.

Confidentiality and Anonymity
Applicants need to note that they cannot give participants guarantees of above confidentiality and must not do so. They need to acknowledge in their information sheets that non-anonymised data (signed consent forms) are collected and retained until destroyed under the School Data retention / destruction policy (see below). They also need to inform participants of their rights to access their personal data at any time (under FOI legislation), or to withdraw their data at any time.

Informed consent is a critical component of ethical research practice. This applies both to agencies and individual research subjects and requires the provision of detailed information sheets, adequate time to consider participation, and signed consent forms. In the case of repeat interviewing or data collection, consents need to be renewed at each stage. ‘TCD stipulates that the autonomy of the potential research participant should be respected by providing, in clear and accessible format, the maximum information on the implications of participation of a project and allowing independent and informed decision-making on whether or not to participate. This information should include written details of risks and benefits in all cases, participants should be made aware of their right to withdraw from the research without penalty at any time, including the withdrawal of their data after participation. All participants should also be formally notified that they are also free to access their own data at any time under the Freedom of Information Act’. (TCD College Policy, 2009).

School data retention/storage/destruction policy
In all cases involving human subjects, consent must be obtained from all participants in the study for the specific data retention/storage/destruction policy involved in that specific study.

For taught postgraduate students, data must be destroyed two years after the completion of the relevant course, unless student and supervisor have arranged jointly to retain it for publication purposes. All raw data must be kept until exam boards confirm a student’s results for a dissertation.  Anonymised interview transcripts are to be retained for two years from the date of the exam board. If you require an extension to retain data beyond two years then you must seek the approval of the REC.

For research postgraduate students and staff research projects, research students and staff will normally plan to keep their data for longer periods, in consultation with their supervisors/PIs or research teams. The principle must be adhered to that this is done with clear and informed consent from all participants in the study. This requires an explicit data retention/storage/destruction policy to be developed for each individual REAC application and to be included in all participant and agency information sheets and consent forms.

Sensitive topics and vulnerable populations warrant particular attention. Sensitive topics include those which might be considered personally intrusive. This includes such topics as illegal activities, sexual behaviours or experiences of abuse. The justification standard for studies involving such topics is higher, and the applicant must demonstrate that the potential and actual benefits of conducting such a study outweigh the possible harm to participants. It is also critical that potential participants are fully apprised of the possible implications of sharing information (including that of a focus-group context), including the risk that formal notifications of suspected abuse or criminal acts may result.

Where research involves those with literacy difficulties, children or other potentially vulnerable groups of participants, rigorous adherence to the appropriate professional codes of ethical practice is required and particular attention must be paid to issue such as access, informed consent by both participants and carers...and the duty of care and conduct adopted in College shall conform to that detailed in the guidelines published by the TCD Children’s Research Centre... Additional formal authorization for the research or clearance of research staff by An Garda Siochana may be required in certain cases.’ (TCD College Policy, 2009).

Your commitment as a researcher or student carrying out research under the auspices of Trinity College Dublin is to comply with the policies as set out in the College Research Policy ( and additional compliance with the policies of the relevant body of the organization wherein any external research is conducted. This is your responsibility.

Link to 'Data Protection Guidelines on Research in the Health Sector' (2007).

Before seeking ethical approval researchers should:

  • identify actual and potential ethical issues that might arise;
  • reflect on how these will be addressed; and
  • Formulate procedures to deal with all such issues to the approval of their supervisor / PI.

During the research project researchers should:

  • implement the ethical procedures;
  • obtain continuous feedback from participants about ethical issues;
  • periodically review the ethical strategy in the light of feedback received; and
  • If required, update their ethical procedures to the approval of their supervisor / PI and inform the REAC of any significant changes in methodology or scope which have ethical implications.

Guidance on Procedure
To apply for ethical approval from the REC, completed application forms together with supporting documentation should be submitted as one single hardcopy document to the Committee Administrator and also an electronic copy e-mailed to the Committee Administrator. The ethical approval form must be submitted no later than by 5pm, 14 days prior to a scheduled meeting of the REC. Timetabled meetings take place from September to June each academic year. The only applications which can be considered outside this structure are those which are externally-funded staff applications involving a tight time-frame or PHD applications.
All applications must be reviewed and signed by Supervisor or Principal Investigator. Forms which are not signed or presented to an acceptable standard (eg: incomplete; excessive typographical or grammatical errors) will be returned and may therefore incur delays.
Please note that in signing the application form, you are giving an undertaking that you have reviewed and incorporated the provisions of Data Protection legislation, College Policy on Good Research Practice (2009) and any other legislation relevant to your particular study.

The Committee will normally provide a response within two weeks of the date of a meeting. One record of each application and decision will be kept by the School. All other copies of applications are destroyed once decisions are made.  Annual reports of the work of the REC are provided to the School and to the College Research Ethics Policy Committee in accordance with their requirements.

Approval from other research ethics committees
When approval has been obtained from an external research ethics committee, a copy of the external ethical approval must be submitted to the committee administrator, prior to commencement of study, for review and noting by the REC. This is accompanied by completion of the School REC application form, indicating where if necessary additional issues required by the SWSP REAC are addressed. Should the SWSP REC fail to grant approval then the research cannot proceed. The Committee in some instances may require further information or advice before reaching a final decision.

Decision Procedure
Decisions are made by majority vote with the Chair having the casting vote. Members of the REC will withdraw from the meeting when their applications are discussed and will not take part in any decision on the application. In the case of postgraduate courses, applications are collated and reviewed by the Course Director in consultation with the Chair of the Committee or delegate in relation to those for whom exemptions are sought and those needing full consideration. Decisions following meetings will be returned to individual students and their supervisors.

Appeal Procedure

Applicants may appeal a decision made by the REAC in writing to the Head of School. The H.O.S will decide how to proceed with any auch appeal in consolation with the School Executive.

End of Project report form (from September 1st 2014)

It is a requirement from 1st September 2014 that all studies not completed by that date must be reviewed annually by the Committee. The attached ‘End of Project / Annual Review report form must be completed and electronically sent to the committee administrator.

Membership and administrative support
The Committee consists of members of the academic staff, the school director of research, the committee secretary, a postgraduate student representative, a member with legal expertise and one external member who is not an employee of the College.

For the academic year 2015/2016, Ms Noreen O'Sullivan is responsible for administration of the Ethics Committee. A hard copy and a soft copy of your application must be submitted to her by the deadlines listed below. Noreen can be contacted at or 01 896 2001. The hard copy must be submitted to Noreen's post box which is located Arts 3063, 3rd Floor, Arts Building.

Dates of Meetings

The REC will meet on the following dates in 2015/16:


Submission Deadline

Thursday 01st Oct-15

Thursday 17th-Sept-15

Thursday 15th Oct-15

Thursday 01st Oct-15

Thursday 05th Nov-15

Thursday 15th Oct-15

Thursday 03rd Dec-15

Thursday 19th Nov-15

Thursday 21st Jan-16

Thursday 07th Jan-16

Thursday 21st April-16

Thursday 07th April-16

Thursday 19th May-16

Thursday 05th May-16

Thursday 9th June-16

Thursday 26th May-16


Last updated 29 January 2016 Social Work & Social Policy (Email).