The Government will have to increase its spending on science and research significantly in the future, the Minister of State with responsibility for the area has conceded.

Damien English said Ireland currently spends less than 1% of GDP on science, while countries that are doing best in the area spend 2%.

This has to be the target over time, the Minister told RTÉ News, though he acknowledged that he was not going to be able to convince the Ministers for Finance or Public Expenditure that it can be achieved within the next year or two.

However, he added that if the Government sets out a plan to continue building on the existing funding situation, and sets a high target, it can get there over the next three to five years.

Minister English said there are major benefits from research spending for society and in job creation.

He said in tough times finding money for research spending is not as easy but the science budgets had been protected through the downturn and the small increase this year shows the right intention.

The Minister was speaking at the publication of Science Foundation Ireland's (SFI) 2015 Annual Plan and review of 2014.

Among the agency’s achievements last year were the announcement of €155m funding for five new world class research centres; the support of researchers working in over 900 collaborations with a range of companies; the building of new research partnerships with companies like Pfizer and the establishment of cross border partnerships with scientific bodies in Northern Ireland and Britain.

Among SFI's plans for this year are to grow the links between existing SFI research centres through a new "Spokes" programme; to develop more strategic partnerships with industry; to support and mentor young researchers; to hold activities to mark the 20th anniversary of National Science Week and to build overall capacity within the research system.

The Director General of SFI and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, Professor Mark Ferguson, told RTÉ News that he would be advocating for an increase in the science budget.

He said SFI is grateful for the small increase in funding it received this year, and it understand the constraints on the public purse.

However, he also said that the demand for more funding is clear and society and the economy would see the return on any increase in investment.

Professor Ferguson said that as part of SFI's aim to have an Irish based scientific Nobel Prize winner by 2020, we could see existing Nobel Prize winners being brought to work here for a number of months at a time.

Their presence would inspire others working with them, he said, and could create a ripple effect which might lead to another Irish based scientist winning a Nobel Prize for science in the future.

Minister English said the government's new national science strategy, which will replace the previous one which expired in 2013, should be finished and published by the middle of the year.

He said there would be an opportunity in the strategy to clarify the Government's position on the funding of fundamental or basic research.

At present, the Government's stated policy is to primarily fund science that delivers jobs.

However, there are some opportunities for researchers to access funding for basic research, and Mr English said the new strategy would be a chance to clarify that.

Minister English said there is pressure coming from some quarters within the EU to reduce the research budget, but he said European science funding, particularly the €80bn Horizon 2020 plan which Ireland is targeting a €1.25bn slice of, is a key resource for research here.

As a result, he said the Government would be putting pressure on its counterparts at European level to maintain and increase spending on research and innovation.

Prof Ferguson also warned that capacity is becoming an issue within the Irish scientific system and that at some stage more resources would have to be put in if we are to get more out of it.

This could be done, he suggested, by boosting the number of internationally recognised star researchers coming here, cultivating emerging stars domestically and bringing on young people who might one day be stars of the future.

The SFI boss said the agency had launched an international campaign to attract big name scientists here, and had found that there are some internationally really important researchers who want to come to Ireland.

This, he claimed, says something about the reputation of Ireland's scientific standing and support structure internationally.

Prof Ferguson also highlighted the need to increase the number of people moving from science into industry, which he said was not as advanced as it could be.

Recent research by Trinity College Dublin found most scientists moved to work in the private sector only after they had completed post-doctoral research.

2014 also saw a significant improvement in the success rate of Irish based scientists winning funding from the European Research Council (ERC).

According to Prof Ferguson, Ireland now has the second best success rate per application to the ERC, following a number of initiatives taken by SFI to increase the number of grant applications from Ireland, the quantity shortlisted and the amount that ultimately receive funding.

SFI acknowledges that further work will have to be done in 2015 to try to encourage more women back into science.

The agency said its new Advance Award, which was launched in 2014 to encourage female participation in research, didn't get as many applications as had been hoped.

Prof Ferguson said SFI was performing well in the retention of female scientists in the sector, but hadn't achieved what it had set out to in relation to attracting back those who had left the sector for family or other reasons.