Des Hanafin was elected a member of North Tipperary County Council in 1955, holding his seat until 1985. He was first elected to Seanad Éireann in 1965 and retained his seat until the 1993 Seanad Elections at which he lost his seat by 1 vote. He regained his seat at the 1997 Election and retired from politics in 2002. He unsuccessfully contested the Dáil elections of 1977 and 1981. He was a chief fundraiser of the Fianna Fáil party for many years.