Four ponies detained at Belfast Port for almost five weeks due to errors in post-Brexit paperwork have been released to their new owners.
Their arrival at the family farm near Ballygowan, Co Down, came after a judge ordered their release this week.
The animals, which had been bought from a seller in Wales, had been detained as a result of errors in new veterinary forms required to ship them from Great Britain to Northern Ireland under the terms of post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.
With missing information on the forms subsequently provided to the authorities in Northern Ireland, a judge decided against sending them back to Great Britain and ordered their release.
Ashleigh Massey and friend Lisa Booth had sourced the animals as a birthday gift for Ms Massey’s daughter, Alia. Due to be delivered a week before Alia’s third birthday, they finally arrived on Friday – four weeks after it.
“Never in a million years did we think it was going end up like this,” Ms Booth told the PA news agency.
“The ponies were taken into the port on the Sunday (March 21) and we couldn’t see them, didn’t know anything about them. It wasn’t until the Thursday night we were allowed in to see them and that’s the only time we saw them.
“It’s just been so stressful and I’ve felt for the ponies as well, because they came from a stud and they were out at grass, so they haven’t really had too much handling or anything like that.”
Ms Booth added: “They were for Alia’s birthday and one was called Cupcake.
“And they were to arrive the Sunday before her birthday and we kept thinking we would get them for her birthday. And she kept asking, bless her, ‘Where’s Cupcake? Where’s Cupcake?’ And in the end, Cupcake we said just was at the boat.
“So we’ve got them eventually, four weeks after her birthday.”
DUP agriculture minister Edwin Poots, a vocal critic of the NI Protocol, was introduced to the ponies on a visit to the farm.
“It is an indication of the problems that are coming out of the Protocol,” Poots told PA.
“Lots of people are being stopped at these docks, paperwork is turning out to be a nightmare, even qualified vets are struggling to identify how they can do this right, vets of considerable experience.
“And this is a demonstration of the impracticality of what is going on here in Northern Ireland with goods being received from Britain.
“We have more checks than Rotterdam port, as the 11th largest port in the world. That is just an outrageous situation, an unacceptable situation.
“And this is a demonstration, that this family have had to go through just to get four ponies that they had acquired in Wales.”