Pádraig Flynn was born in Castlebar, County Galway on 9 May 1939. He was educated in Castlebar and qualified as a teacher from a teacher training college in Dublin. He was involved in local politics since 1967, but was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD in 1977. In 1980 he became Minister of State at the Department of Transport and Power. Flynn joined the Cabinet table in 1982 when in March of that year he became Minister for the Gaeltacht, and in October he was appointed Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism. In 1987 Flynn became Minister for the Environment.
Flynn resigned from the Cabinet in 1991 when he supported a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. The following year Haughey resigned and Albert Reynolds became Taoiseach. Flynn was rewarded for supporting Reynolds by becoming Minister for Justice. In 1993 he was appointed Ireland's EU Commissioner. He was re-appointed by the Fine Gael government in 1995. On both of these occassions Flynn accepted the Social Affairs portfolio. In January 1999 Flynn made comments on a live chat show (the Late Late Show) regarding Tom Gilmartin and a donation of £50,000 to the Fianna Fáil party. Flynn's second term as Commissioner was ended early in September 1999 when the entire commission resigned due to allegations of malpractice by the European Parliament.