New figures released today show that Government spending on research and development fell in 2016.

The data compiled by the CSO/Eurostat also show that the estimated research and development spend by the State last year as a percentage of GNP only rose by 0.01%.

Overall, the report shows that gross spending by the Government and the private sector on research in 2016 was 1.43% of GNP.

However, the actual amount of R&D investment has increased since 2009 and reached €3.24 billion in 2016.

The target set by the Government in its research and innovation strategy, published in 2015, was to increase total research spending by both the public and private sectors to 2.5% of GNP by 2020.

The latest data shows the State would have to massively increase spending on research and development over the next two years if it is to meet its own target.

In 2015 the amount of money spent by the state on R&D was €736 million, or 0.36% of GNP.

The following year that fell to €719 million or 0.32% of GNP, with an estimate of €768 million or 0.33% of GNP for 2017.

Although actual Government spending on research did not increase significantly between 2008 and 2016, it has faced the added challenge of rises in GNP in 2015 (+25%) and 2016 (+5.2%).

The figures left Ireland languishing ninth from the bottom of the EU table when it came to its own gross spending on R&D in 2016, compared to second from the bottom for 2015.

Levels of Government R&D expenditure as a percentage of all Government expenditure has remained around 1% over the past six years.

Despite this, he Minister for Training, Skills, and Innovation, John Halligan, welcomed the latest figures.

He said it is encouraging to see the increased provision for research and innovation in 2017, especially given the competing demands and continuing pressure on public finances.

"This positive momentum must be maintained and we must continue to give R&D funding sufficient priority to ensure Ireland becomes a global innovation leader," he said.