The Irish unit of British bank HBOS Plc and Dublin-based private equity group Quinlan Private are mulling a joint bid for the Irish Nationwide Building Society, The Irish Times newspaper reported on Monday.

The two potential bidders have made exploratory contact with Irish Nationwide, which is expected to fetch between 1.0 billion euros and 1.5 billion ($1.4 billion to $2.1 billion), the paper said.

Quinlan and HBOS's Bank of Scotland (Ireland) division declined to comment on the report, while nobody at Irish Nationwide could immediately be reached for comment.

Irish Nationwide has put itself up for sale after legislation last year allowed building societies, which are owned by customers, to demutualise and become public companies.

Quinlan is eyeing the society's relationships with some of Ireland's biggest property developers and would be interested in its property portfolio, buying and leasing back any branches of interest to HBOS and selling the rest, The Irish Times said.

HBOS, Britain's biggest mortgage lender, would be attracted by Nationwide's mortgage book and an opportunity to add branches to its relatively new Halifax retail operations in Ireland.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters no deal was imminent.

You can take it a big bank like HBOS takes a glancing look at lots of different opportunities but there is nothing live or imminent, the source said.

Iceland's Landsbanki, which in late 2005 agreed to buy Irish brokerage Merrion Capital, and General Electric Co's retail finance arm GE Money, have also been named in recent media reports as potential suitors for Irish Nationwide.