Labour Party conferences have often been bleak affairs in recent years.

The official scripts were always laden with much contrived optimism but they inevitably failed to mask the reality.

There has not been any noticeable upsurge in support for the party in the opinion polls but unquestionably the mood has somehow lifted.

Labour believes it can defy comprehensive polling data and mount a serious challenge in the by-elections this month and in the general election next year.

To achieve that, the party will, in the words of some delegates, "go back to basics".

That will involve putting workers' rights top of the political agenda as the party contemplates the possibility of returning to Government.

It’s a topic that brings back painful memories for many in the party though and there is much caution about the prospect.

Party leader Brendan Howlin acknowledged that Labour was "seared" in the past and would not enter Government to simply make up the numbers.

But everything suggests that Labour would play a role in Government formation in 2020 if they get solid promises on: the living wage, housing, universal health care, climate action and an improved childcare system.

The much repeated political charge is that Fine Gael and Labour cannot be trusted.

However, there is a clear sense here these verbal volleys will be forgotten if Labour (even if quite modest in scale) become key players in deciding who gets to become Taoiseach next year.

On that front, note the stinging comments about Leo Varadkar.

Mr Howin accused the Taoiseach of sending out mixed messages and not displaying strong leadership to stand up against a "new toxic racism that has entered our politics".

By any standards that is a ferocious political slap that might just make any talks about the future very tense indeed.