Ancient Law May Open Floodgates to Tax-Free Water; MLA Pipes Up on Behalf of Villagers as Charges Loom

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Byline: RICHARD SHERRIFF

DRINK, for free, for life. It sounds great, but the inhabitants of Kilkeel aren't getting that excited just yet.

For one thing, the drink in question isn't the black stuff. It's not even the water of life. It's just water.

For another, no one knows for sure yet whether an ancient law containing the promise still exists.

The Belfast Water Act of the 1890s decreed free water from the Silent Valley reservoir in perpetuity to the people of Kilkeel at the behest of the 3rd Earl of Kilmorey.

It was the Earl's land which was given over to the Belfast Water Commisioners for the reservoir and, once the Act was passed, that was that.

With free water, no one was that worried but, with the advent of domestic water rates looming, the law is being dusted down and could 'well' be tested in the courts.

DUP MLA Jim Wells is behind the plan and yesterday he was brimming with enthusiasm.

"We don't know, but if this has not been repealed, then they can't charge Kilkeel people for water."

The document was discovered gathering dust in the Queen's University Law Library after the South Down MLA made a public appeal concerning its whereabouts.

Since then, the idea that the village could 'pull a fast one' over the men from the ministry has frankly gathered little interest in the Co Down harbour.

For one thing, there's few men that interested in water, as Danny Feherty was more than happy to prove. Putting a fine-looking Guinness to one side of the counter in Jacob Hall's, he suspiciously lifted a fresh-drawn pint for inspection. …