The International School for Peace Studies (ISPS) was derived from a proposal by Glen Barr, Chief Executive, that there exists a need to convince people, especially younger people, that war, conflict and inter-communal tension are undesirable, and that it is both advantageous and necessary to promote to all sections of society, the values of tolerance, mutual understanding, dialogue and peace-building.
As one of the key people involved in the development of the Island of Ireland Peace Park and Round Tower, he concluded that the story of the coming together of the 16th Irish Division and the 36th Ulster Division at Mesen/Messines Ridge in June 1917, a time when back home Ireland was ripping itself apart, provided the basis for assisting people to learn about these topics, develop a new perspective on conflict and improve their skills in negotiation, mediation and conflict resolution. The result was a decision to establish a ‘School' to address these topics.
In September 2001, the Belgian Minister for Youth, Tourism and Culture and the Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, jointly conducted the official opening of the new facility. Essentially, it consists of a dedicated space in an existing civic building (a community and sports centre), which is owned by the local town council, Stad Mesen. The area is capable of holding classes of up to 40 persons and has been refurbished for this purposed.
The School is designed to be a ‘neutral venue' and is used by any and all groups interested in peace-building, conflict resolution, reconciliation, the promotion of tolerance, understanding, dialogue and the averting of inter-community conflict.
The International School for Peace Studies has a small corps of full-time staff, supplemented by a range of international specialist trainers. The emphasis of the School is on practical problem solving approaches to conflicts, with programmes accredited by recognized educational bodies.
The types of groups currently using the School include:
· youth and school groups
· ex-prisoners and former paramilitaries
· trade unionists
· members of the security forces
· community groups
· international peace-building NGOs