Ireland appears further away than ever from meeting one of the key targets of its innovation strategy - significantly increased spending on research and development, according to new figures released by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

The data shows that Ireland is now sitting at or close to the bottom of a league of EU and OECD nations when it comes to different measures of spending in this area.

The Government's research and development strategy, Innovation 2020, which was published in 2015, pledged to bring about a doubling of public and private spending on R&D over five years, bringing total expenditure to 2.5% of GNP.

But since then the Government has failed in successive years to allocate the necessary extra spending to make this happen.

As a result, new figures show that last year just €3.396bn or 1.46% of GNP was spent in total on research and development, unchanged from 2016.

Within that Government spending as a percentage of GNP also remained the same at 0.32%, and is estimated to fall to 0.30% this year.

That is despite a modest increase in actual spending from €739.3 million in 2017 to €751.7m this year.

The challenge for the Government has been made more difficult by a rapid increase in the size of the economy in recent years, with GNP jumping 45% since 2008, but Government funding for the sector falling 21% since then.

Indeed, State expenditure on innovation remains almost €200m less than it did prior to the economic crash in 2008.

The situation has left the Government’s spending on R&D as a percentage of GNP second from the bottom of a list of around 30 OECD countries or groupings in 2016, well below the EU and OECD averages.

Of the €3.396bn spent in total, €2.657bn came from business, the EU and other funding sources, with the commercial sector providing most of that figure.

Despite the stagnation in R&D spend, the numbers employed in the area in Ireland continues to increase, reaching 36,087 in 2016, putting Ireland near the top of the charts when it comes to international comparisons.

In yesterday's budget, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation received a small increase of €40.25m for the research and innovation.

However, this will be nowhere near enough to bring the state closer to meeting its target.

Among the measures to be funded by the €368.95m expenditure plan, according to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, is the new Disruptive Technologies Fund, which will receive €20m.

The previously announced PhD Research Programme will cost €10m, while the renewal of funding to six of the first seven Science Foundation Ireland research centres will cost €5m.

The funding for Ireland's joining of the European Southern Observatory is also included in the expenditure plan for next year.