The Government has launched a new five-year science strategy which aims to double total spending on research and development in Ireland by 2020.

Innovation 2020 will also see Ireland open negotiations with high-profile international research organisations CERN and the European Southern Observatory, with a view to joining them.

The blueprint will see a new competitive interdisciplinary fund established by the Irish Research Council within two years to promote early-stage cutting-edge research.

This fund aims to address an imbalance that sections of the research community say exists between funding for basic science and that aimed at creating jobs.

However, the Government's controversial policy of targeting competitive funding at priority areas most likely to yield an economic benefit remains central to the strategy.

The document also says the State will continue to invest in education, though there are no specific promises about increasing funding to the higher education sector which has seen severe cuts in recent years.

The plan reaffirms the Government's previous commitment to ensure a total of 2.5% of GNP is spent each year on research and development by both the public and private sectors by 2020.

If this is to be realised, then annual spending in the area will have to be almost doubled from €2.9bn to €5bn during the lifetime of the plan.

In 2013, just 1.81% of GNP was spent on research and development in Ireland, compared to 4.2% in Israel.

On the issue of talent, the strategy targets a 30% increase in the number of new enrolments in research-based Masters and PhDs each year from 1,750 to 2,250.

The number of funded post-doctoral places will also increase by 30%.

A national policy on structured career progression for researchers is to be developed.

Innovation 2020 also includes the introduction of "challenge-based funding".

This will see specific scientific or technological problems identified by the Government, industry and academia which will then have research funding targeted at them.

The document also makes a commitment to increase the number of research centres around the country to address the needs of business.

A successor to the Programme for Research in third-level Institutions will be organised during the lifetime of the plan, to ensure existing infrastructure like labs and equipment in universities and institutes are properly maintained and new facilities added.

However, a condition of funding under the initiative will be that businesses will have to be given access to them.

The strategy is a successor to the Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation, which ran from 2006 until 2013.

Over the past two years, the Government and State agencies have been engaged in a consultative process with business, academia and others involved in research and innovation to draft a new plan.

All Government departments have been asked to contribute to the strategy, which has the backing of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Businesses are seen as a key driver of the plan because two thirds of research and development spending in Ireland comes from companies, with the balance invested by the State.

The plan sets a target of doubling the amount of private sector funding of publicly-performed research, so that costs as well as benefits can be shared.

The number of trained researchers working in business will rise by 60% to 40,000, if the blueprint is successful.

The strategy also aims to see around 35% of all PhD researchers in Science Foundation Ireland-funded research teams move into industry, up from 25% today.

A group will now be established to drive the implementation of the strategy which will be delivered, the Government says, through a process similar to the Action Plan for Jobs.

Its recommendations will be considered in conjunction with those contained in a number of other reports due to be finalised soon on future funding of the third level sector and the area of STEM education.

Innovation 2020 was formally launched this afternoon by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton and Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English at an Innovation Showcase in Dublin.

Addressing the audience at the launch Mr Kenny said the strategy will keep research and development, science and technology at the heart of Ireland's recovery.

Mr Kenny said the strategy sets out a vision of how Ireland can become an innovation leader through R&D, science and technology.

He added that Ireland is perfectly positioned as a country to lead from the front.

He also said we must ensure that the Irish innovation and research system remains both agile and flexible so that we have the capacity and capability to exploit opportunities in emerging areas.

Mr English said the strategy was about future proofing our economy.

He said it would not only help drive the economy but also society as well.

He described the spending target as ambitious but said the Taoiseach had directed departments to prioritise it in their spending estimates. He added that the strategy is a roadmap and business plan for investment.

Positive reaction from science community over plans

Director General of Science Foundation Ireland has said the new strategy is an ambitious plan that will future proof the economy by focusing on excellence, talent and impact.

"Implementing Innovation 2020 is an investment in Ireland's future and is central to retaining and creating jobs," said Professor Mark Ferguson.

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) also expressed its support for the strategy.

"The plans to increase postgraduate enrollments by 30% and to develop an effective careers plan for researchers puts the spotlight on talent," said Ned Costello, IUA chief executive. "This will benefit both research and education and ensure a flow of critical skills in to the wider economy and society."

The Institute of Physics, meanwhile, also welcomed the plan but sounded a note of caution.

It pointed out that there is no clarity as to how the targets will be funded and achieved and said it looks forward to costing and budget information being released in due course.

CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer said it welcomed the news that Ireland is to begin negotiations on membership next year.

"I am delighted that Ireland is ready to explore membership options for CERN," said Mr Heuer.

"Every time I have visited Ireland I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and talent for science that I have found there.

“I believe that Irish science and industry have an important role to play in the future of international science, and I hope that we can soon welcome Ireland to the CERN family."

UCD and CERN physicist Dr Ronan McNulty added: "This announcement is wonderful news for Irish science and the economy,

"If Ireland joins CERN then Irish students will get jobs, training and internships there, and Irish companies will get contracts and benefit from technology transfer."