The eurogroup of finance ministers has agreed to examine the possibility of extending the maturities on part of Ireland's bailout loans, according to Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

In the statement tonight, Mr Noonan said the offer would have the potential to "further enhance Ireland's debt sustainability and to facilitate our successful full return to the markets".

The eurogroup will refer the issue of extending the maturities of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) loans to officials to examine technical details, the statement added.

Ireland received €17.7bn from the EFSF as part of the €67.5bn bailout agreed in November 2010.

The EFSF is made up of loans and guarantees from euro zone member states.

The loan repayment schedule foresaw the monies being repaid according to varying maturities, after approximately three years, five and a half years, seven years, ten years, 25 years, and 29 years.

It is not yet clear what changes will be made to those maturities once EU officials have examined the issue.

Mr Noonan also said that a decision will be taken at Tuesday's ECOFIN meeting to examine the possibility of extending the maturities of another segment of Ireland's bailout, the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), which is drawn from the EU's own resources.

The offer has also been made to Portugal.

The statement said: "The decision by the eurogroup to examine the extension of the maturities on Ireland's and Portugal's EFSF loans is a very welcome and positive development. "This recognises the efforts being made by well-performing programme countries.

"The eurogroup agreed to refer this issue to senior officials to examine the technical details and they will report back shortly. This has the potential to further enhance Ireland's debt sustainability and to facilitate our successful full return to the markets.

"I look forward to the conclusion of this examination as soon as possible. "In terms of the EFSM loans, a similar request will be made at ECOFIN tomorrow," it added.

Some bank burden would remain under ESM

Earlier, Mr Noonan said Ireland would have to carry some of the burden even if the permanent EU bailout fund, the ESM, took equity holdings in the surviving Irish banks.

Speaking ahead of the meeting of eurozone finance ministers, Mr Noonan said: "There's a signal we always knew was there, that whatever we negotiate we're not going to get 100%.

"There will always be an element of the sovereign carrying some of the burden."

The discussions follow the decision by euro zone heads of government last June to break the link between bank debt and sovereign debt.

Officials from 17 member states have so far struggled to reach consensus on how historical debt should be treated, and whether or not it should be covered by the ESM.

It is hoped final agreement on the status of historical bank debt will be reached by the end of Ireland’s presidency of the EU.

"There are a variety of views but we're sticking by the commitments that were made on 29 June," Mr Noonan told reporters.

"The precise commitment was to separate the banks and the sovereign."

Mr Noonan said that, following the recent sale of Bank of Ireland shares - so-called preference and contingent capital shares - it was not impossible to expect that further sales of such shares relating to the Government's stake in AIB and Permanent TSB could be sold at par.

Although he said the ESM was still neutral on whether it might take equity shareholdings in Irish banks, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that it could buy ordinary shares after the sale of preference or contingent capital shares.

How the ESM will be structured has yet to be worked out by finance ministers.

The ESM can only start directly recapitalising banks once the EU has set up a new bank supervisory regime (known as the Single, Supervisory Mechanism, or SSM) under the umbrella of the ECB.

It is understood that if a member state seeks help for a bank after the creation of the SSM, then it will have to provide some support itself.