TAOISEACH Enda Kenny last night admitted he didn't know why retired public servants were being brought back to work while thousands of young graduates languish on the dole.
In what amounted to a frank admission of chaos at the highest level, Mr Kenny said: "I don't think I actually know the scale of what's involved here."
And Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin admitted there is no central record of the retired staff being brought back in to work for state bodies -- or why they are being rehired.
The controversy widened last night after revelations that civil servants are back at their desks, despite taking early retirement and a more lucrative pension under a special deal earlier this year. Some are senior officials in top roles.
But no one in the Government could give firm guidelines on where and when it was acceptable to favour retired people over younger graduates.
Thousands of potential candidates who are not being considered include young teachers, nurses and newly qualified vets.
There is only a vague policy on re-hiring. It says people can be brought back after retirement for a task where their skills or experience are required.
But Mr Kenny said he would prefer to see jobseekers getting priority over retired people.
"I know that in the case of many retired public servants that the instructions are that, where it is possible to hire new people, that should be done."
However, that will bring little solace to the thousands who have graduated over recent years and are looking for work or contemplating emigration.
While there is a recruitment embargo, there was growing evidence last night that hundreds of retirees have been brought back on contracts across the whole public service.
Most of the retirees being rehired are on short-term contracts and the positions are not being advertised.
It emerged that 254 teachers are working in schools, despite being retired from duty, to get children through Leaving Cert classes in July.
But the HSE is still refusing to say how many retired health staff have been hired -- even though it is the largest employer in the public sector.
The issue has come to the fore since almost 8,000 public sector workers retired early last February.
The Government is under growing pressure to clarify who it wants to fill gaps in the public service. Some positions have been justified because of the experience that retirees can bring to a role -- this is often the case where teachers return to help a class finish an important exam year.
But in some cases managers are suspected of bringing back retired workers because it is easier than setting out to advertise and interview fresh candidates.
Without any detail or breakdown of where and why the retirees are working, the Government is facing huge criticism for not having a firm set of guidelines in place.
The retirees who have returned to work include a wide range of staff, from 59 vets working for the Department of Agriculture as meat inspectors, to the chief medical officer in the Department of Social Protection, who was rehired on a salary of up to €102,152.
Fianna Fail TD Billy Kelleher, who obtained the initial figures, said that most public servants who were rehired were denying jobs to those who were unemployed.
"If you retire, all things being equal, you shouldn't be able to come back.
"I just believe there are plenty of young people out there and people with qualifications and skills who could easily take up these jobs," he said.
According to the most recent figures, the State spent €15.4m on rehired retired public servants in 2010.
This is expected to soar this year given the high number of retirements before February's deadline to get a better pension deal.