US billionaire investor Wilbur Ross yesterday claimed his private equity consortium could take control of EBS "within the next few months" after entering into exclusive talks on the deal late last week.
But informed sources said the Cardinal consortium, which includes Mr Ross, the US-based Carlyle group and Dublin's Cardinal, had been given a "window of opportunity" to address "significant issues".
Cardinal and Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) had been locked in a two-way bidding war until IL&P was elbowed out of the process late last week.
"It's another step forward," Mr Ross told CNBC. "It's a step that should hopefully lead to the completion of the deal over the next few months."
Mr Ross said there would be further negotiation, but he described the process as "fine tuning" so the two parties could "get to a definitive agreement".
Mr Ross reiterated previous comments about the potential for Ireland to recover, stressing that the people were "very, very resilient" and that the Government acted "very aggressively" to resolve the crisis.
The Cardinal group has said it is prepared to put as much as €600m into EBS. The cash EBS needs may increase following banking stress tests at the end of March.
Cardinal also has to iron out exactly how the Government will be compensated for rescuing EBS -- through profit sharing or a stake in the new entity.
A spokesman for the group declined to comment on the latest developments, which are due to be formally announced by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) by the end of the week.
Sources strenuously denied suggestions that Cardinal had "significant hurdles" to overcome, but others insisted the private equity had been given until the end of March to satisfy various demands.
News of the IL&P's failure to buy EBS comes on the eve of the bancassurer's full-year results announcement tomorrow, though the blow is cushioned by IL&P's success in the deposits auction last week, where it won €3.6bn of deposits from Irish Nationwide.