Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has welcomed the release of four horses held at Belfast Port for more than a month, following a court judgement.

The horses are understood to have been held at the Border Control Post since March 21 due to incorrect paperwork.

The four Dartmoor ponies had reportedly been bought by a Co. Down as a birthday gift for her daughter.

The horses are an ‘example of the silliness going on at our ports’

Minister Poots said: “The four ponies have been released this morning and reunited with their owners; the common-sense outcome.

“This example shows the silliness that is going on at our ports. I don’t blame the staff, I blame the Northern Ireland Protocol and those who placed it in law.

“The Protocol was imposed against our will, but London, Brussels and Dublin pressed ahead, cheered on by Sinn Féin, Alliance and the SDLP. Today, we have two and a half times more checks taking place at our ports than at Rotterdam, the 11th largest port in the world.

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.”

Sheep imports

Horses are not the only animal species to have trouble making the journey from Britain to Northern Ireland. In December, the Northern Ireland Office advised farmers who had bought sheep in Scotland to resell them.

The sheep which were supposed to enter Northern Ireland but have not been able to meet new health standards brought in from January 1 – such as mandatory scrapie-testing. It takes seven years for flocks to be recognised as ‘scrapie-monitored’.