Ponies detained at Belfast Port over Brexit forms reunited with owner

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Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said the release of the ponies was "the common sense outcome"

Four horses held for a month at Belfast Port due to incorrect post-Brexit paperwork have been released and reunited with their owner.

The Dartmoor ponies, bought by a County Down woman for her daughter's birthday, were detained after arriving on a ferry from Liverpool on 21 March.

The animals were held because of issues with veterinary forms completed to comply with the NI Protocol.

It was the first case of its kind since the new arrangements came into force.

The ponies faced the prospect of being returned to Britain to be quarantined for a further 30 days.

However, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said they were released on Friday morning and reunited with their owner Ashleigh Massey, which he said was the "common sense outcome".

"This example shows the silliness that is going on at our ports," Mr Poots said.

"I don't blame the staff, I blame the Northern Ireland Protocol and those who placed it in law.

"These excessive checks are not only impacting ponies, but I am increasingly concerned from an animal welfare point of view that pets are being put through unnecessary veterinary procedures just to comply with the NI Protocol.

"Dogs are undergoing checks for rabies whilst the British Isles has been rabies free for decades.

"It is time for Brussels and the government to recognise the protocol is flawed and has not worked."

Amid concerns they could end up being slaughtered, on Thursday Belfast Magistrates' Court granted the owner's appeal against being denied access to the ponies.

Ordering their release from a Department of Agriculture, Environmental and Rural Affairs (DAERA) facility at the docks, District Judge George Conner said: "I see no virtue in sending the animals back to Scotland or any other place on the mainland just to teach someone a lesson in form-filling."

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