The Government is set to extend a plan to sell down its holding in Bank of Ireland, according to two people familiar with the matter, in a move that could allow the state to exit its bailout of the lender.

According to a Bloomberg report citing sources who did not wish to be named, the Government is preparing to prolong a share trading plan beyond its current end date of May 20.

It may announce the extension as soon as this week, the people added.

Since it started selling shares in June, the Government has cut its holding in Bank of Ireland from 13.9% to 4.93%, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has yet to decide whether to sell all of the state's remaining holding, one of the people said, and the government may yet retain some shares in the bank.

A Department of Finance spokesman declined to comment.

Bank of Ireland is the only Irish bank to have repaid the taxpayer for its support, having returned its €4.8 billion-euro bailout in full by 2013, a company spokesman said.

The share sale process has added to these returns, he added.

Meanwhile, Bank of Ireland said earlier today that it has started a share buyback programme of up to €50m.

The bank had announced plans for the share buyback and dividend payments on February 28 when it announced its full year results.

The buyback has now received the regulatory approval it needed to go ahead, the bank said.

Bank of Ireland said the programme will start today and end no later than May 25, 2022.

The maximum number of shares that can be repurchased under the programme is 50,000,000.

The shares will be repurchased on Euronext Dublin and will be cancelled, the lender added.

Annoucing the move in February, Bank of Ireland group chief executive Francesca McDonagh said that shareholders will be the main beneficiaries of the bank's share buyback, but added that the move would also help to support customers and the wider economy.

"We are ending 2021 in a very strong capital position because of the profit generation and when we look at our future needs, our need to invest in growth, invest in the business we feel it is prudent also to share some of that capital and return it to shareholders," the Bank of Ireland CEO said.