(Bloomberg) -- NatWest Group Plc and Ireland’s government each sold 5% of Permanent TSB Group Holdings Plc, marking the beginning of a disposal process which will see the last of Ireland’s retail banks returned to private ownership following crisis-era bailouts. 

The sale of 54.6 million shares reduces the state’s holding in PTSB to 57.4%, while NatWest will retain about 12% of the ordinary share capital.

The sellers will receive €55.2 million euros ($59.4 million) of gross proceeds each, NatWest said in a statement Friday. The shares priced at €2.025 a share, representing a 7.95% discount to Thursday’s close.

The move is a milestone in the government’s relationship with PTSB, which was among banking institutions that received a bail-out during the financial crisis.

Bank of Ireland Group Plc was returned to full private ownership in September 2022, while the state has cut its stake in AIB Group Plc from 71% to 53% since January 2022. However, the government had previously it didn’t plan to unwind its holding in PTSB in the short-term due to profitability challenges.

Ireland Doesn’t Plan to Reduce PTSB Stake in Near-Term

Even so, the acquisition of “a sizeable proportion” of Ulster Bank’s business ahead of its exit of the Irish market this year along with a strong economy have “transformed” the bank, Irish Finance Minister Michael McGrath said in a statement Friday. 

“The Irish Government believes that banking is an activity that should be provided primarily by the private sector and that taxpayer funds which were used to recapitalise the banks should be recovered and used for more productive purposes,” he said. The PTSB transaction “will help improve liquidity and interest in the bank as we continue preparations for a wider disposal program in the coming years.” 

The finance ministry lifted a ban on bonuses for the bailed-out banks late last year, though this was to be tied to a reduction in the state’s holdings for AIB and PTSB.

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