Four ponies held at Belfast port for a month due to problems with post-Brexit paperwork have been freed following a court ruling.
The Dartmoor ponies, bought by a woman from County Down for her daughter's birthday, were detained after arriving on a ferry from Liverpool on March 21.
The animals were held because of issues with veterinary forms required to comply with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was established to reflect the province’s place inside the UK internal market, while continuing to apply EU rules.
However, in the first case of its kind since the transition period ended in January, a judge ordered the release of the ponies, which otherwise faced the prospect of being returned to Britain and quarantined for a further 30 days.
The Court also heard concerns that the animals could have been slaughtered, as the woman was unable to afford the costs involved.
Ordering their release from facilities operated by Northern Ireland’s environment department, 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."
The case was highlighted on Wednesday night through social media by Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, who has called on Boris Johnson to scrap the protocol.
Speaking afterwards, solicitor Patrick Higgins, acting for the woman, called on the UK Government and Brussels to review the new rules imposed on Northern Ireland, which he said were causing problems on a daily basis.
“No matter what way people voted in the Brexit referendum, no one in Northern Ireland voted for this new additional level of bureaucracy being placed upon animals owners, hauliers and vets as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol,” Mr Higgins said.